Strong Mayor Model?
This week Premier Doug Ford stated that he plans to bring in legislation that would give the Mayors of Toronto and Ottawa stronger powers. This was not something that anyone had asked for during the provincial election nor was it a campaign issue. With the provincial election being over, and the municipal election ahead this fall, there has been no consultation on how such legislation would affect the residents of Ottawa and Toronto and no details on the goal of this change.
I am very concerned with the concept of a Strong Mayor model. Constituents rely on their elected official to bring their voices to the table. This model implies that the concerns from councillors and their residents on such things as development projects in their communities will not hold weight. Minister of Municipal Affairs Steve Clark has stated that this is about getting more housing built, but I have to ask at what cost? The city of Ottawa put together an Official Plan (OP) that took much effort and consultation with community groups and residents. It was supported by the majority of council. The provincial government has yet to give its feedback and approval on the OP so that our city may move forward on the hard work that was put into this extensive plan for the future growth of our city.
Professor Stephane Emard-Chabot, a former Ottawa City Councillor and expert on Municipal law commented that, 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. It’s a system common in the United States, with the role of mayors akin to a CEO that operates in conjunction with but also independently from council. “The more you concentrate power, the more you raise the risk of corruption,” he said.
Ottawa City Council has already agreed upon an ambitious new OP to have 60% of our growth, as a city, within existing urban areas. The overriding theme needs to be the environmental impact of what we do as a city. Building more housing in the outskirts of the city will mean more roads and other infrastructure that needs to be built and further loss of green space and dependency on cars. As we suffer through another hot humid day or experience more extreme weather situations, we need to remind ourselves on the importance of planning to reduce the impact on climate change including having enough green space and tree canopy. I don’t believe this Strong Mayor model will be focusing on climate change and that consultation with communities remains a priority to maintain and build livable communities
The model for Stronger Mayor could essentially take the voice away of residents, at the very least lessen it. I’ve always been a strong advocate and supporter for affordable housing, and I believe we can accomplish much more with equal representation around the council table.