Veto would be among expanded powers of Toronto, Ottawa mayors under 'strong mayor' system: Ford

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Mayor John Tory, left, and Premier Doug Ford speak at a news conference after a closed-door meeting at Queen’s Park on June 27, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Mayor John Tory, left, and Premier Doug Ford speak at a news conference after a closed-door meeting at Queen’s Park on June 27, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

The mayors of Toronto and Ottawa will have the option to veto city council motions as part of the expanded authorities granted to them through the province's plan to introduce "strong mayor" powers in those cities, Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday.

Speaking to Global News outside Queen's Park, Ford said that the mayors are "responsible for everything, but they have the same single vote as a single councillor." A veto power would allow those mayors to "make the appropriate changes," he continued.

Ford added that while specific details are still being worked out, it is likely that two-thirds of councillors would be able to overrule a mayoral veto.

Ford suggested he intends to move ahead with introducing a strong mayor system in both cities immediately, before the upcoming municipal elections in October.

The Toronto Star reported late Tuesday that Ford is considering legislation that would give stronger powers to the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa as part of a bid to get more new housing built in those cities.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said Wednesday that he would support being handed expanded powers from the province.

"'Strong Mayor' powers are something that I've said I would support — I talked about it before the last election," Tory said in a statement Wednesday morning.

"I understand this is something that the province is exploring in order to get more homes built as quickly as possible."

'We need to speed up the pace,' Tory says

Beyond a veto power, further details of what exactly these additional abilities would entail remain vague. A "strong mayor" system is typically marked by the centralization of executive power with the mayor, who has control over department head appointments and oversees budgets.

The system is common in the United States, with the role of mayors akin to a CEO that operates in conjunction with but also independently from council.

Speaking to reporters before this morning's council session, Tory said he's had no formal conversations with Ford about expanding the powers of the mayor's office, but that the topic of finding ways to speed up housing construction came up in "passing" during the pair's most recent meeting in June.

"Anything we can possibly do to, for example, get more housing built — to get more housing built faster — I'm interested in that. Because we've got a big problem to deal with here," Tory said.

"We need to speed up the pace of how we get things done."

When asked how a strong mayor system would translate into faster decision making and planning, Tory said it is too early to speculate since he has not seen any details of what the additional powers might look like.

Councillors want more information from province

Right now in Toronto, the mayor's vote is the same as that of a city councillor.

Ford did not talk about bringing in a strong mayor system during this summer's Ontario election campaign, and such a move would add a new layer of complexity to the mayor's race in the fall municipal elections.

Nor has the Ford government moved to amend the Municipal Elections Act to deal with other issues, including a loophole that CBC News reported on that allows lobbyists to pay people to campaign for councillors without their knowledge.

During the current term, Tory has controlled the balance of power on city council which has enabled him to pass most of the policies he supports.

In a statement, Toronto mayoral candidate Gil Penalosa criticized Tory's support for a strong mayor system.

"The best local politicians work with their constituents to build consensus on community needs and then advocating for them at city hall," a statement from Penalosa's campaign said.

"I have not seen the current mayor lose a single important vote in his time at council. Toronto is not living up to its full potential because of a weak vision, not a 'weak mayor' system."

On Tuesday, Parkdale Coun. Gord Perks asked for any information about Ford's plan that city or mayoral staff may have to be brought to the council floor for debate. This week's meeting is the final council sitting before October's municipal election.

"I think it would be inappropriate for us to end our term without having a chance to discuss a potentially very, very important change the way the city of Toronto is governed," Perks said.

Perks also seconded a motion from Toronto–St. Paul's Coun. Josh Matlow that would see council ask the province not to pass any legislation to expand the existing powers of the mayor's office.

"Such a move would erode democracy by stifling advocacy on the most important issues affecting Torontonians," the motion reads.

"Our city's governance structure should be designed for not only what we aspire our system to be, but it must also take into account what guard rails are necessary to protect a healthy local democracy," it continues.

"In Toronto's case, we don't need to look very far back in our own history to understand how important the ability to hold the mayor's power to account is. In fact, it was absolutely necessary."

The last paragraph is an apparent reference to the tumultuous mayoral term of Rob Ford, Doug Ford's late brother. Rob Ford's time in office was punctuated a series of scandals that ultimately led council to strip him of certain powers, including authority to hire and fire the deputy mayor and appoint members of his executive committee.

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