Ontario to bring in ‘strong mayor’ system for Toronto, Ottawa

The mayors of Toronto and Ottawa will be getting extra power, Premier Doug Ford confirms. Ford says the mayors will be given veto powers to overrule council. It's not clear when Ford plans to implement the sweeping powers.

By Michael Ranger, Michael Talbot

Ontario plans to bring in a so-called “strong mayor” system for certain cities as it looks to put more power into the hands of those who lead some of the province’s major municipalities.

Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday that his Progressive Conservative government will be looking at the details of such a system but that it will be in place before municipal elections in October.

“I just think that the mayor of Toronto or Ottawa, or any mayor, they’re accountable for everything, but they have the same single vote as a single councillor,” Ford told reporters outside the legislature.

“We’ll get into the details later … it’ll be immediate as we move forward in the election in October.”

The increased mayoral powers would only be bestowed upon the mayors of Ottawa and Toronto, and they could be introduced within a matter of weeks.

The U.S.-style “strong mayor” system is typically marked by the centralization of executive power with the mayor, who has control over department head appointments, oversees budgets, and sometimes is granted veto power.

“‘Strong mayor’ powers are something that I’ve said I would support — I talked about it before the last election,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in a statement, responding to news of the proposal.

“I understand this is something that the Province is exploring in order to get more homes built as quickly as possible. As Mayor, I am absolutely determined to get more housing built – no matter what powers I have.”

The respective mayors could be able to make key budgetary decisions without earning council’s support. The mayor currently only has one vote in decision-making, the same as other city councillors.

toronto mayor john tory

Toronto mayor John Tory, speaks alongside Ontario Premier Doug Ford during a joint press conference inside Queen’s Park in Toronto, Monday, June 27, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston.

The move could allow the province to bypass city council on some decisions and instead deal directly with the mayor.

Doug Ford previously left his mark on Toronto municipal politics when his government cut the size of city council from 47 seats down to 25, shortly after he was elected as premier in 2018.

Ford invoked a notwithstanding clause to pass legislation to shrink the council. It was the first time the clause was used in Ontario’s history.

Toronto councillors react to having powers diluted

City Councillor Josh Matlow has put forward a motion asking city council to “take a stand for our local democracy.”

Matlow expressed why he thinks giving the mayor more power is a bad idea, citing an example from recent history.

“Toronto had a mayor that made international headlines,” Matlow said. “And demonstrated very clearly why giving any one mayor too much power is a really bad idea.”

“We had a crack-smoking mayor under an active police investigation. It wasn’t right-wingers or left-wingers. It was Torontonians who said that wasn’t a good idea.”

Toronto City Council was still in session when the details of the premier’s plan to give the mayor more power came to light on Tuesday.

Some councillors took to social media to quickly voice their displeasure at the prospect of having their powers diluted

“Every time we have a local election, Doug Ford feels the need to jump in,” tweeted Ward 4 Councillor Gord Perks, who seconded the motion put forth by Matlow.

“I hope John Tory speaks out against Doug Ford changing the way local government works again.”

Perks rose in chambers to ask the speaker and the mayor to get details on the proposal so council could discuss it. The final council meeting before the fall municipal election wraps up this week.

“Once again, the premier thinks the people of Toronto are incapable of governing themselves,” said Perks.

With files from Momin Qureshi of CityNews

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