Provenzano has reservations about proposed ‘strong mayor’ powers

‘I think it would be detrimental to municipal governance in communities like Sault Ste. Marie’

Outgoing Mayor Christian Provenzano is expressing strong reservations about a plan to give some Ontario mayors new powers, including the ability to appoint their own chief administrative officers or to overrule some council decisions.

“I saw it. I read it. I looked at it,” Provenzano tells SooToday, referring to the Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act introduced this week in the Ontario legislature.

“I don’t think it is a good development for municipalities,” the mayor said.

“I think it is going to really negatively affect the importance and influence of the council itself.”

“It’s going to really bolster and strengthen mayors and it’s going to diminish city councils,” said Provenzano, who is not seeking re-election after two terms in office.

The bill would initially allow the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa to override council approval of a bylaw, such as a zoning bylaw, that would hamper a set of provincial priorities that will be set out later in regulations.

Examples of priorities that government officials gave include the goal of building 1.5 million homes in 10 years and building critical infrastructure.

Proposed new powers for ‘strong mayors’ include:

  • hiring the chief administrative officer and municipal department heads
  • creating and re-organizing departments
  • appointing chairs/vice-chairs for identified committees and local boards
  • establishing new identified committees
  • bringing matters for council consideration related to provincial priorities
  • vetoing bylaws approved by council if they relate to matters of provincial priority
  • proposing the municipal budget

A council could override the mayor’s veto with a two-thirds majority vote.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said he would review the legislation, but that he generally supports the idea.

But in Ottawa, the reception was quite different.

Mayor Jim Watson, who is not seeking re-election, said Ottawa doesn’t need those powers, nor did he ask for them.

“I don’t quite understand how giving me more powers is going to help build more houses,” Watson told The Canadian Press.

The mayors of other large cities have expressed interest in such powers, and Steve Clark, minister of municipal affairs and housing, left the door open to adding more municipalities to the legislation at a later date.

If passed by the legislature, the changes will take effect Nov. 15, 2022, the day the new municipal council term begins.

“I wouldn’t like to see it grow out beyond Toronto and Ottawa. I think it would be detrimental to municipal governance in communities like Sault Ste. Marie,” said Mayor Provenzano.

“I think there’s a lot of value in having to make group decisions. And I think there’s a lot of risk in giving one person the type of authority the province wants to give to the mayors themselves.”

“If you take an example, just one example, a strong mayor would be able to appoint whomever he or she saw fit to be the CAO [chief administrative officer]. If you look at the city of Sault Ste. Marie, we do that collaboratively as a council. It’s a council process and the mayor has to work with councillors to make that selection. I think it’s important that councillors have influence in who’s going to lead the municipal organization. That’s one example of where I think it gets problematic.”

“Toronto’s got the City of Toronto Act. If there are powers that the mayor of the City of Toronto would need to have to do his job more effectively, I think that to a degree is much more understandable than the rest of the province, because of the size of the City of Toronto and its operations and employee base and budget.”

“When you’ve elected a group of people to do something and that group of people has to come to a consensus or a majority decision to do something, there’s a lower risk that you’re going to get really bad decisions when you have a number of people who have a sincere input on the decision.”

“But you can elect a really poor mayor that has a tremendous amount of authority, that can use that authority to really run amok. I could see with respect to the City of Toronto, and to a lesser degree Ottawa, wanting to give the mayor some more authority than they currently have. But I don’t see that having a role across the province.”

“I think you have to be very careful what extra powers you give, and why you’re giving them. What problem you’re trying to solve.”

“The truth is, mayors don’t have a lot of power. The system is designed that way on purpose, so the mayor has to work with the council that’s also duly elected, to do things that they collectively determine are in he city’s best interest, not that somebody in their unilateral capacity determines is in the city’s best interest.”

“There’s a huge distinction there. You’re more likely to actually align a council decision with the city’s best interest if the mayor has to find a solution that gets the support of a majority of council, than if the mayor doesn’t need anybody’s support and can do what the mayor wants,” Provenzano said.

If passed by the legislature, the changes will take effect Nov. 15, 2022, the day the new municipal council term begins.

with files from Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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