Opinion | Former Toronto Mayors Warn ‘Strong Mayors’ Law Will Harm Local Democracy

Bill 3, the Building Homes for Strong Mayors Act, proposes a radical change in local government in Toronto and Ottawa, which risks ending meaningful democratic local government in these two cities.

The legislation gives the mayor, regardless of who that person is, the power to do almost everything, from preparing and approving the budget to appointing the chairs of committees, agencies, boards and commissions, to hiring and firing city staff , and the power to direct them to do what he or she wants.

Such a proposal removes any meaningful role for city councilors and thus the voice of the local residents who elect them.

It gives the mayor almost complete power, and by giving the mayor a veto over decisions that are believed to “potentially weigh in on provincial priorities” (often secretly defined by the provincial cabinet), the province ensures that the mayor almighty be accountable. to the province, not to the voters in your city.

This is deeply undemocratic and a formula for bad decisions made in the interests of the very few who have access to the prime minister’s office.

Toronto and Ottawa are large, cosmopolitan cities: in Toronto’s case, with a population larger than most provinces, whose residents should have the right to make democratic decisions about who represents them and how their city government should function .

Toronto’s nearly three million residents and Ottawa’s one million deserve better: responsive local governments where decisions are made publicly and transparently.

It is through the efforts of a local city councilor that residents are able to participate in the daily business of building a city. There are numerous issues facing the city that supports such public participation, from development proposals to routes and transit stops, community facilities such as libraries, public health, housing, nature conservation and much more.

There is no predetermined answer to these questions. They are best answered by the community itself, brought together by someone they elected who is directly accountable to them, listening to each other, asserting their needs and supported and empowered by the public service, which in turn is accountable to the community through the city council. . Involving people in such processes produces better responses, builds community, and helps create an engaged public that is aware of its rights to participate in democratic processes and uses them frequently.

Provincial and federal governments are characterized by political party control, strict messaging, extreme reliance on polls, and slavish adherence to the party leader. City government has always been different: a place that, at best, involves residents in decisions that affect their lives and has debates between different points of view, often reaching compromises on difficult issues, in the council .

The proposal to allow a mayor to have veto power over issues of provincial interest and set the budget undermines exactly that and gives the province too much influence over decisions that should be up to Torontonians and their elected officials. Doing so will lead to worse outcomes and far fewer opportunities for residents to have a real voice.

There are substantial risks in the proposal: A mayor who wields such significant power will be subject to enormous pressure from lobbyists who want public decisions to go their way.

Second, giving the mayor the power to hire and fire senior staff destroys one of the basic principles of democratic government, which is the separation of legislative and executive function, and removes the effective checks and balances that exist today, where the council as a whole has the ultimate responsibility for public service.

Also, removing all effective influence from council members means that people of merit are far less likely to want to run for an already challenging position, which discourages exactly the kind of progressive, public-minded people we need on the council. .

It is the kind of proposal that neither party would accept in an election, because it has so little merit. Maybe that’s why we didn’t find out until after the election was over.

Collectively, we have been Mayors of Toronto for more than half of the last 50 years. We all worked with systems where, like every other member of the board, we had a vote. The mayor does not need the powers proposed in this legislation: the prestige of the office of mayor provides more than enough platform for the mayor to provide leadership and strong influence in city council decisions on citywide matters in which they were chosen. .

We urge all members of the Legislature to reject this legislation.

David Crombie, Barbara Hall, Art Eggleton, David Miller, and John Sewell are former Mayors of the City of Toronto.

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