Doug Ford grants ‘strong mayor’ powers to 26 more Ontario cities, including Brampton, Mississauga, Markham and Oshawa

Prime Minister Doug Ford is granting additional political powers to rivals past and present.

Ford’s Progressive Conservative government announced Friday that “strong mayor” powers, previously only available to Toronto and Ottawa, will be extended to 26 other large or fast-growing Ontario municipalities.

That means new authority for mayors like: Mississauga’s Bonnie Crombie, favorite in Ontario’s Liberal leadership race on Dec. 2; Andrea Horwath of Hamilton, former NDP leader; Vaughan’s Steven Del Duca, the former frontman for Grit; and Patrick Brown of Brampton, Ford’s predecessor as Tory leader.

Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said the changes, which will allow mayors to pass legislation with only a third of the support of their councils, as well as control municipal budgets and hire and fire city department heads , are needed to speed up housing construction.

While critics have said that concentrating power in the offices of mayors is “undermining local government” by reducing the influence of councillors, Clark said the province had to take bold action.

“There was a very clear direction for us that we need to be able to provide them with the tools to support us in this common goal of ours to create more housing opportunities,” the minister told reporters in Queen’s Park.

“This is a priority for the government: we are going to do everything possible to put those shovels in the ground,” he said, noting that the 28 municipalities with strong mayors represent the 1.2 million of the 1.5 million new homes that the Conservatives have pledged to build over the next decade.

“Everything we’ve done, whether it’s vetoing certain statutes that don’t meet our provincial priorities, is about making sure those mayors have the tools to make sure they meet their obligations.”

As of July 1, the powers will be extended to the mayors of Ajax, Barrie, Brampton, Brantford, Burlington, Caledon, Cambridge, Clarington, Guelph, Hamilton, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Markham, Milton, Mississauga, Niagara Falls, Oakville, Oshawa, Pickering, Richmond Hill, St. Catharines, Vaughan, Waterloo, Whitby, and Windsor.

Newmarket, Chatham-Kent, Sudbury and Thunder Bay could be next to see additional powers if those municipalities sign on to the province’s commitment to meet housing construction targets.

Crombie, for his part, said that while he welcomed the new powers, he sees them “being used in Mississauga sparingly and with a degree of caution.”

“I agree that it is important that we have the necessary tools to build houses, but for me, a strong mayor is one who can build consensus with the other council members,” he said.

“Now that these powers are official, I plan to have a discussion with the council about a framework for when and how they should be used.”

Pressed on whether the chief magistrates would use their newfound influence to override the majority in the council, London Mayor Josh Morgan stressed that “every mayor will approach these powers differently.”

“In my city, the first step I would take then is to sit down with the city manager and look at the full set of powers. I can tell you that I’ve been very successful in getting board consensus and that’s always the approach I’m going to take on most issues,” Morgan said.

Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward, chairwoman of Ontario’s large city mayors, noted that most municipalities have accepted the province’s housing targets due to demand for more housing.

“We have recognized the need to build affordable, supportive and affordable housing; we deal with mental health and addictions, our homelessness crisis; all of this is related and we can’t do it alone,” he said.

“So we’re here…continuing to build our relationship with the province and the federal government to make sure all levels of government are at the table to address those issues.”

But NDP MPP Jeff Burch (Niagara Center) said “conservatives are undermining local government and the ability of local elected officials to serve their residents” by diluting the role of councillors.

“Instead of undermining local councils, Ford needs to take the time and listen to what the people of Ontario really want.”

Robert Benzie is the bureau chief for Star’s Queen’s Park and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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