Yesterday afternoon the Honourable Steve Clark, Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, introduced the Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act, 2022. This highly-anticipated proposed legislation focuses on providing municipalities with enhanced powers and tools to advance provincial priorities. Powers will be enhanced for the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing having the power to apply the legislation to additional municipalities.
As described by the government, “Strong mayor systems” will empower municipal leaders to work more effectively with the province to reduce timelines for development, standardize processes, and address local barriers to increasing the supply of housing. This legislation would give identified mayors substantial control over setting the direction for annual city budgets, stronger hiring powers, and the ability to veto by-laws and override council. This is particularly important for the upcoming municipal election on October 24th as it will be more consequential to engage with the newly elected mayors in relevant municipalities to advance projects and policies.
Hiring Key Municipal Leaders and Defining Departments – The proposed changes would give mayors of Toronto and Ottawa the flexibility to appoint their respective municipality’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) or delegate the decision. Mayors would also be able to hire certain department heads, excluding statutory positions such as a clerk, treasurer, integrity commissioner, chief of police, chief building official, medical officer of health, and others. The mayor would also be able to delegate this power, such as to Council or the CAO.
Directing the City Budget – This legislation would make a mayor responsible for proposing the municipal budget for council consideration. As part of the budget process, council would be able to make changes to the mayor’s proposed budget, which the mayor could then veto. Council could override a mayoral veto with a two-thirds majority vote. The result at the end of the process would become the municipality’s budget for the year.
Committees and Boards – Municipalities and their councils are often supported by committees and local boards. The proposed changes would allow mayors to create new identified committees and appoint the chairs and vice-chairs of identified committees and local boards. These changes would also allow a mayor to change the make-up of a committee, for it to best support a municipality.
Bringing Forward Provincial Priority Matters for Council Consideration – The proposed changes would empower mayors to direct provincial priority items, such as building more housing, to council. This would also empower a mayor to direct staff to develop proposals to be brought forward for council consideration.
Powers to Veto By-laws and Council Override – The proposed changes would give a mayor power to veto council’s passing of a by-law if all or part of the by-law could potentially interfere with a provincial priority. To ensure there is no abuse of power, if passed, council could override a mayoral veto of by-laws related to provincial priorities, with a two-thirds majority vote. The mayor would remain as a member of council for council decision-making with one vote. This means that council votes are not final for 48 hours pending whether or not the mayor decides to exercise this power.
Filling a Vacant Mayoral Seat – In the case where a mayor’s seat becomes vacant before a regular election, these changes would require a municipality to fill the mayor’s seat through a by-election. The existing rules for how by-elections are run would still apply. For example, a municipality is not required to fill the position if a mayor’s seat becomes vacant within 90 days before voting day in the year of a regular election. If a mayor’s seat becomes vacant after March 31 in the year of a regular municipal election, the municipality would be required to appoint a mayor, who would not have these new powers. This would not impact the flexibility that these municipalities currently have in deciding how to fill other vacant council seats – they would have the choice to appoint someone or have a by-election.
Defining Provincial Priorities – The government intends on making accompanying regulations to set out current provincial priorities. These priorities could include building 1.5 million new homes in 10 years to address the housing supply crisis, and the construction and maintenance of infrastructure, such as transit and roads, to support new and existing residential development.
Housing Supply Action Plan Implementation Team (HSAPIT) – To help communities across Ontario build more attainable homes, the government is launching HSAPIT to provide advice about market housing initiatives, including building on the vision from the Housing Affordability Task Force, More Homes for Everyone and other government consultations. The government intends to appoint Drew Dilkens, Mayor of the City of Windsor, as Chair and Cheryl Fort, Mayor of the Township of Hornepayne, as the Vice Chair. Other team members will be selected in the coming weeks, with the first meeting scheduled for early Fall.
Barring any unforeseen events or amendments, this legislation is positioned to pass in the next few weeks and intended to take effect on November 15, 2022, at the start of the new municipal council term.
In the City of Toronto, the immediate implication of the new Act for the upcoming 2022 municipal elections is that mayoral candidates, in Toronto, will be more focused on ward races, particularly the seven open wards as they will want to ensure strong support on Council which would limit the need to use veto powers. Whereas Ottawa presents a different challenge, without an Ottawa incumbent mayor and eight open ward races, the use of these proposed powers could shape up in many different ways. As these changes in the legislation are meant to function as a pilot, we could see these powers being bestowed on other major municipalities such as Mississauga and Hamilton. Activist mayors will be much more impactful in advancing their agendas with this proposed new veto power. Those who have been stymied by council in getting certain projects or policy priorities approved may re-open items that have been considered settled in the next term. Meanwhile, new mayors running on change campaigns could substantially alter the directions of their city.
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Angela Drennan, Vice President and Municipal Practice Group Lead: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Tristan Downe-Dewdney, Senior Associate, Municipal Government Relations: firstname.lastname@example.org
Robyn Gray, Principal: email@example.com