The provincial government is extending strong mayoral powers to more Ontario cities, a move that previously sparked controversy when legislation was passed late last year to strengthen mayoral powers in Toronto and Ottawa.
In an announcement Friday, Secretary of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark said the county is giving “strong mayor” powers to 26 other municipalities, including Oakville, Milton, London, Windsor, Hamilton and Niagara Falls. The heads of those cities will receive the new powers from July 1.
Clark said the move is intended to help regions get shovels in the ground faster to help meet the county’s goal of building 1.5 million homes by 2031.
“The 26 municipalities that will receive these powers are among the largest and fastest growing in our county,” Clark said.
“Our government is determined that these municipalities are poised for success and that they have the necessary tools to meet the housing commitments made.”
LOOK | Clark says the goal of building houses is a “priority” for the government:
However, projections in Ontario’s spring budget for housing starts showed that the goal of 1.5 million homes each year would fall further out of reach.
Nearly 100,000 homes were built in the province in 2022, but the forecast shows that the number of housing starts will struggle to crack the 80,000 mark per year in the coming years, projections that were even lower than last year’s budget.
The announcement came after a meeting with Ontario’s Big City Mayors (OBCM), a group made up of 29 mayors who lead cities with populations of 100,000 or more.
Three boroughs of the 29 OBCM members were not listed, including Newmarket, Chatham-Kent and Thunder Bay.
“It’s pretty simple. We’ve given strong mayoral powers to any community that has made a housing commitment,” Clark said when asked why those three cities were not included.
“But we will certainly give them and other municipalities the opportunity.”
Toronto, Ottawa was the first to receive powers
In December, Toronto and Ottawa were both were given strong mayoral powers as part of Bill 39, also known as the Better Municipal Administration Act. Former Toronto mayor John Tory expressed support for the new powers at the time, while Ottawa mayor Mark Sutcliffe said he was not interested in using them.
Powers include allowing mayors to propose and pass housing-related bylaws with the support of one-third of council members, as well as overriding council approval of bylaws such as a zoning ordinance, which would hinder the creation of more homes.
Strong mayors are also responsible for preparing and submitting their city’s budget, rather than the council, and hiring and firing department heads.
At the time of the original announcement, 15 Toronto city councilors asked the county to halt legislation on the bill, citing concerns that they had not been consulted, adding that the council and residents would have to decide on any changes to the administration of the city.
Clark would not say whether all 26 mayors actually want to use the strong mayoral powers. With Toronto’s June 26 midterm elections less than two weeks away, several Toronto mayoral candidates have vowed not to use it.
Premier Doug Ford previously said Toronto and Ottawa would act as a “test area” before extending powers to other municipalities.
Following the county’s announcement, Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said the new powers will help accelerate the city’s goal of building more homes.
“I am grateful that the Prime Minister has made it easier to carry out our respective agendas,” Brown said in a statement.
However, some mayors said they have no plans to use the powers.
“In eight point five years as mayor, it would be hard to think of a time when I would have ever used this particular tool, because my approach was, and my municipality’s approach, was to work together,” said Mayor Berry of Kitchener. Vrbanovic.
“We’ll look at the details of the rules and regulations, but in terms of day-to-day decisions, tackling things like housing and making sure homes are built, we have a council that works together.”
Kingston Mayor Brian Paterson said in a statement that he and his council are determined to solve the housing crisis through cooperation.
“Today’s announcement does not change my style or how I will continue to lead as mayor,” he wrote in a statement.
“Anyone who’s worked with me knows I’m not going to use this tool all of a sudden, but I’m also not ruling out situations in the future where it might be needed.”
Movement ‘undermines’ rights of elected officials: NDP
The announcement drew criticism from the opposition NDP, who said the move “undermines the rights of elected local councils and the communities they serve.
“This is about Ford giving itself more power to force municipalities to create expensive urban sprawls that will harm real people and line the pockets of the prime minister’s developer friends,” NDP Housing critic Jessica Bell said in a statement Friday.
“Ontarians want to build a life in the communities they love, with affordable housing, real rent control, and functioning transit.”
The NDP statement calls on the provincial government to ensure that new housing construction includes starter homes, purpose-built rental homes and affordable housing. It also called on the province to close loopholes used for renovations and to end “exclusionary zoning”.
The list of regions that received new mayoral powers on Friday includes:
- Niagara falls.
- Richmond Hill.
- Saint Catherine.