Friday, August 12, 2022

The idea of a "strong mayor" in Ontario is scary

Doug Ford and his intrepid Conservatives, apparently with the blessing of the province's voting public (although do YOU know anyone who voted for them? I certainly don't), are intent on rolling back democracy in the province still further  by introducing the concept of American-style strong mayors in some of our larger cities, like Toronto and Ottawa (and possibly other large cities).

What does this actually mean in practice? Well, a "strong mayor" would: take sole responsibility for preparing and tabling the council's budget (something a budget committee currently does); have a power of veto over pretty much any council decision if they consider it a matter of "provincial priority", and  a two thirds majory of council members would be required to oppose this veto, thus effectively removing the long-standing democratoc principle of rule by simple majority; personally appoint the council's chief administrative officer (CAO), the second most powerful position in council; have the power to hire and fire many department heads without involving the rest of council; ditto for the chairs of committees and local boards; and be able to directly add what they consider items of "provincial priority" to council agenda.

The theory is, according to Doug Ford, that a strong mayor would be able to push through house-building projects without all the deliberation amd red tape that is currently involved (house building would presumably be a "provincial priority"), and make decision-making in general more "efficient". 

Toronto Mayor John Tory is apparently in favour of the idea. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson (who is not running for re-election) disagrees and says that the new powers are unnecessary and potentially dangerous. The opposition parties say this is just another attack on local democracy just before a major municipal election by Doug Ford, just as he did before the 2018 election.

My response is just two words: Rob Ford. While such a system might work undr a sensible, moderate mayor, what happens with a loose cannon like Doug Ford's late brother, the worst mayor Toronto has ever had. Imagine if he had had these kinds of power at his disposal. What havoc could he have wreaked then?

While increased house-building might be a laudable goal, Council is quite capable of getting ot done without this kind of provincial interference (with some more ginancial backing from the province). And we don't need just any old housing development at any cost, we need considered, appropriate, targeted, environmentally-friendly housing. Which, funnily enough, is what a council is for. They may work more slowly but, given adequate funding, they will get the job done better and more democratically than any "strong mayor". 

This is just a poorly-disguised attempt by Doug Ford to further weaken city councils and, especially, Toronto City Council, which he has never forgiven for crossing him when he tried to run for mayor some years ago. It is his attempt to put Ontario's major cities in his own pocket, and to allow him to dictate their policies. Those voters who were swayed by Ford's "folksiness" have done us all a huge disservice.

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