What does a “strong mayor” system mean for Toronto? Here is what you need to know.

The so-called “strong mayor” system could soon come to Toronto, giving the mayor the executive power to pass laws without the support of some council members.

Last week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that the system could come to Toronto, Ottawa and possibly other municipalities before municipal elections in October.

Ford suggested the powers could help pass building proposals and legislation faster in an effort to create more homes to combat the city’s housing crisis.

“They (the mayors) are responsible for everything. But they have the same single vote as a single councillor. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a good decision or a hard decision that they make, they have to be responsible and (“strong mayor” powers) only allow them the ability, not the power. I always say that we have a great responsibility and ability to make the appropriate changes,” Ford told reporters.

Tory, Ford

Toronto Mayor John Tory, who is seeking re-election, said he has supported and continues to support the use of the “strong mayor” system, and that it would help address the need for more affordable housing.

“I understand that this is something that the province is exploring to build more housing as quickly as possible. As mayor, I am absolutely determined to build more housing, no matter what powers I have as mayor,” he said in a statement.

But what exactly are “strong mayor” powers and how do they work?

WHAT ARE THE POWERS OF THE ‘STRONG MAYOR’?

Currently, Toronto and the rest of Ontario have a so-called “weak mayor” or “council-manager” system, which simply means that a mayor is elected and only represents one vote in the entire council.

Whereas the “strong mayor” system would grant unilateral authority to the mayor.

“Overall, what’s really different from the ‘strong mayor’ system is that the strong mayor is elected with an agenda and is empowered to try to enact that agenda,” Karen Chapple, director of the School of Cities at the University of Toronto, he told CP24.com.

“So, in a ‘strong mayor’ system, the mayor really controls the budget typically. And that makes it possible then, that’s how they get to enact their agenda because they have control over the budget.”

CAN THE COUNCIL OVERRIDE THE MAYOR?

If the ‘strong mayor’ system comes to Toronto, the mayor could risk being vetoed by the city council.

Ford said a majority of council members could override the mayor’s decision, but details of the system have yet to be worked out.

“Two-thirds of the council can override the mayor, but we’ll dig deeper once everything is settled,” he said.

City Attorney John Mascarin says the council still needs veto power to prevent autocratic rule.

“What you would see is the province saying, ‘Look, we’re going to increase the powers of the mayor, but you’re not going to have unilateral control over everything.’ That I think would be completely unwise and take away the benefit or really be undemocratic because you would have these council members that would be there doing what? Any. Basically, you’d be getting an autocrat in power,” he said.

If the council overruled the mayor’s decision, Chapple says they would likely have to “start from scratch” and negotiate something new.

HOW WILL THE ‘STRONG MAYOR’ SYSTEM HELP BUILD MORE HOUSING?

As Toronto continues to face an affordable housing crisis with growing demand and inadequate supply, the “strong mayor” system could help speed up the process of building more housing.

Chapple says the system could reduce the number of hurdles to passing building proposals, as some councilmembers reject housing-related votes to appease their constituents.

“From a public good perspective and a city perspective, we need to pass these laws everywhere. But from the perspective of certain councilmembers, it’s ‘I don’t want it in my backyard, I don’t want it in my neighborhood,’” he said.

“I think that’s the hope that you can get through this a little bit and be able to make housing decisions that are good for everyone and not subject to the whims of a few people who tend to be the wealthiest and richest people who have housing. I don’t have any problem,” he added.

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The Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing says that upcoming changes to the mayoral structure will help address the city’s housing problems.

“We know that in Ontario today, too many families are locked out of the housing market. That is why we have a plan to build 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years and continue to explore ways to help municipalities build more homes faster,” Chris Poulos, director of problem management at the ministry, said in a statement. a statement.

DO OTHER NORTH AMERICAN CITIES USE THE ‘STRONG MAYOR’ SYSTEM?

New York and San Francisco are some examples of large North American cities that currently use the “strong mayor” system.

The system generally gives executive power to the mayor, who then has control over appointments of department heads, oversees budgets, and is sometimes given veto power.

Chapple says there are more “trustee-council” systems in the United States than the “strong-mayor” system, but he says that appears to be changing.

“Recently, there has been a trend that cities are more likely to try to move to a ‘strong mayor’ system than to try to move to a strong city manager system. And there seems to be a pattern where big cities go for strong mayors, and the ‘council-manager’ system stays very strong in smaller cities,” he said.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A ‘STRONG MAYOR’ SYSTEM?

Chapple says he supports the system because it holds the mayor accountable and provides a layer of transparency to the public about how councilmembers vote on certain issues.

“…Is this something the council did? Is this something the mayor did? There’s kind of a black box around governance in Toronto right now. I mean, I could go back to the votes and find out who made the decision, but in terms of what the public knows, it’s not clear who’s making the decisions,” he said.

Chapple added that a “strong mayor” system could also give Toronto a new status of global recognition.

“Strong mayors get a celebrity (status) around them, like (former New York City Mayor Michael) Bloomberg or like Eric Garcetti in Los Angeles or Gavin Newsom in San Francisco, who was a strong mayor,” he said. .

“He (Newsom) was able to advocate for same-sex marriage. It was really his work that got the Supreme Court to uphold same-sex marriage because he said ‘we’re San Francisco, we’re going to do it.’ And so it creates a platform to really drive meaningful social change,” he added.

WHAT ARE THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST A ‘STRONG MAYOR’ SYSTEM?

Some councilors argue that the powers could be harmful if given to the wrong person.

“The debate is not about Tory, nor about left or right, nor about efficiency, but about the possibility of power falling into the wrong hands without any recourse. It also strips Toronto communities of their representation in key debates,” Mike Layton, District 11 Councilman, tweeted last week.

Mascarin says there would have to be “checks and balances” to ensure Toronto’s government remains a democracy.

“The mayor may be able to control the agenda and the budget, but he doesn’t have unilateral rights over everything, and he can veto certain things, but not everything.”

With Canadian Press archives


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