Ontario NDP asks Toronto mayor to withdraw request for stronger mayoral powers

Ontario’s official opposition is urging Toronto’s mayor to withdraw his request for new powers that would allow certain statutes to pass with only a third of council support.

The powers have been laid out in provincial legislation known as Bill 39, or the “Better Municipal Governance Law”, which expands on the strong mayoral powers that have already been given to the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa.

The new powers allow mayors to propose and modify statutes related to certain provincial authorities without a majority vote. This, the province argued, would allow governments to build housing faster.

In the case of Toronto, a third of the council would mean that only eight of the 25 people would have to vote in favor of the mayor.

Mayor John Tory confirmed last week that he “raised the change” with Ontario Premier Doug Ford and supports the legislation.

In a public letter to the Tory released Wednesday night, the New Democratic Party called the legislation an “egregious attack on the democratic rights of the people of Toronto.”

“The people of Toronto have just participated in a municipal election to elect 25 city council members assuming their votes would be honored,” the letter says. “To know now that he asked the prime minister to give him the power to run the city with the support of only eight councillors, only a third of the councillors, is a profound betrayal of the people’s trust.”

“If we allow this supposed expediency to override democratic processes, then we will be on a slippery slope where democratic controls are continually overridden. Bill 39 and the erosion of accountability and transparency creates a playbook for deals and backstage scandals.”

The NDP then called on the mayor to publicly withdraw his support for the bill.

A similar demand was made during the first meeting of the Toronto city council of the new term. City Councilor Josh Matlow urged the mayor to allow the bill to be debated among councilors and to rescind its support.

“I’m not suggesting there shouldn’t be the ability to speed up the housing crisis and speed up transit and do all the things that are priorities, but it should be done through a democracy and minority rule is the antithesis. of a democracy,” Matlow argued.

Three other newly elected councilors, as well as five former Toronto mayors, have also voiced their opposition to these new powers.

In his opening remarks Wednesday, Tory said that while he is confident he will be able to work with the council “to get things done,” he is also committed to building faster housing and transit.

“People want this job done and I think most understand that continuing to do things the way we’ve been doing and expecting a different outcome is unrealistic. I have made no secret of the fact that I fought my last election as a candidate,” he said.

“My fight now is not a political fight, it is a fight against time.”

In September, the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa also received veto powers, the ability to control the city’s budget, and the ability to hire and fire department heads and appoint council committee chairs.

On Wednesday, Tory promised to use the veto only “on housing and transit matters of importance to the entire city”; though he didn’t specify what exactly that would entail. As it stands, a “provincial priority” as defined by the Ontario government includes anything that advances its commitment to build 1.5 million new homes by 2031, as well as any construction and maintenance of infrastructure that supports housing.

This can include things like transit, roads, and utilities.

“Any proposed use would always be preceded by a staff report,” Tory told the council.

“And, without exception, I will first try to build consensus by using the council process.”

The council can still overturn a decision made by the mayor using these powers, but it requires two-thirds of the members to agree.

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