15 Toronto councillors ask province to reconsider strong mayor powers

Toronto City Hall council chambers sit empty ahead of municipal elections on Oct 12, 2022.  (Patrick Morrell/CBC - image credit)
Toronto City Hall council chambers sit empty ahead of municipal elections on Oct 12, 2022. (Patrick Morrell/CBC - image credit)

Fifteen Toronto city councillors asked the Ontario government on Tuesday to scrap a bill that gives new powers to the mayor.

In a letter addressed to Premier Doug Ford and Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark, the councillors call on the province to reconsider Bill 39, the Better Municipal Governance Act, 2022. The bill has not yet passed third reading.

The councillors are concerned that the bill overrides majority rule, allowing the mayor to enact bylaws deemed to advance a "prescribed provincial priority," with support from only eight of 25 city councillors.

"Bill 39 is moving quickly through the Ontario Legislature and is expected to pass this week, but Toronto City Council has not had an opportunity to debate or consult with residents on this fundamental change in our governance," the letter reads.

"We are writing you today because we are concerned that we have not had a chance for input on the governance of our city or to weigh in on the impacts on the checks and balances of power that would result from the loss of majority rule at Toronto City Council."

The councillors say any changes to the governance of the city should be decided by council and residents.

According to the legislation, the strong powers can be used on bylaws related to building housing, transit-oriented development or infrastructure.

The councillors note in the letter that council passed a motion in July 2022 that asks the province to consult with it before before granting strong powers to the mayor. The motion also says council should make any decisions that would change its governance structure or local elections.

Councillors Amber Morley, Gord Perks, Anthony Perruzza, Mike Colle, Alejandra Bravo, Ausma Malik, Dianne Saxe, Josh Matlow, Chris Moise, Paula Fletcher, Jaye Robinson, Shelley Carroll, Lily Cheng, Michael Thompson and Jamaal Myers all signed the letter.

In a tweet, Matlow said: "Together, the majority of Toronto city council has taken a stand for the basic tenets of democracy. We would've preferred that Mayor John Tory join us."

Mayor says he is committed to consensus

Tory said in a statement on Tuesday that he always tries to reach consensus on issues regardless of impending legislation.

"I respect councillors making their views known on this issue — as they do on many other issues," he said.

"I've been clear that my leadership style and overall approach, consistently demonstrated over eight years, will not change. I will continue to work collaboratively with the Council to get things done, as we have done together for two terms. Even with the provincial changes set to be approved at Queen's Park this week, my determination to always try to reach a Council consensus on the issues our city faces remains steadfast," he added.

Tory said city staff are expected to present a report to council in a week to provide details on Bill 39 and Bill 3, the Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act, 2022.

"I look forward to an informed and respectful debate taking place at that time," he said.

"We've got work to do together as a City Council on getting more housing built, getting transit built, and tackling the City's financial challenges. I look forward to working with the Council on these issues."

Clark, for his part, has defended the bill, saying in a Nov. 16 news release that it will ensure "municipalities have the tools they need to deliver on shared provincial-municipal priorities."