After news that the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa will soon get expanded, U.S.-style powers, other big-city leaders say they'd like a taste, too.
Premier Doug Ford told reporters outside Queen's Park on Wednesday he was planning to give the two mayors veto power over council decisions — but their councils could veto their vetoes with a two-thirds majority.
After the "trial," the government would consider expanding the powers to other large cities, he said.
Mayors are "accountable for everything" but only have one vote on council, Ford said.
"I just think it's the right thing to do since all the responsibility falls on the mayor," he said.
Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark's office suggested the move is intended to speed up home construction.
"We know that today in Ontario, too many families are frozen out of the housing market. That’s why we have a plan to build 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years and continue to explore ways to help municipalities get more homes built faster," spokesperson Chris Poulos said in a statement.
But Ford pushed back on that messaging, saying he didn't remember making the case for the strong-mayor system in the context of affordable housing.
"But it's just any decision, he has to hold that responsibility," said Ford.
Other mayors say they weren't consulted on the change — but they like how it sounds.
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who represents the third-largest municipality in the province, said she'd appreciate more power, but only in "cases where decisive action is needed."
Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said a strong-mayor system would've helped him get his city's LRT project, in the works since 2007, approved faster.
"It's happening now, but it was very difficult to get it to the point where ... council agreed to move forward," he said.
He stressed he doesn't want a "dictatorship." But voters elect mayors with mandates to get things done, he said.
"I worry about the very, very strong mayor system they have in the United States, where mayors seem to have kind of unfettered authority over just about everything, as opposed to ... that fine balance where we obviously need to collaborate and work with our councils to exercise the will of the people," he said. "And certainly, the will of the people is often demonstrated through a mayoral campaign."
Eisenberger said building more housing likely wouldn't be helped by stronger mayoral powers, though. It's a complex issue tied to land supply, skilled trades and interest rates that needs to be solved by all three levels of government, he said.
"I don't know that giving additional powers to mayors, in the general sense that we've talked about, is going to have a dramatic impact on housing in our communities," he said.
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown's office said the former PC leader would also be on board.
"He has not seen the proposed legislation, however, he hopes that if Toronto and Ottawa receive new municipal powers that other large municipalities would be considered in the future," spokesperson Gary Collins said in a statement.
Ontario's municipal elections are scheduled for Oct. 24, 2022. Brown and Crombie are seeking re-election. Eisenberger is not.
Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward said the Ontario Big City Mayors group has called an emergency meeting to discuss the proposed change.
“This came as a surprise" since the province didn't consult OBCM or the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, she said.
Meed Ward said the changes should be available to every municipality, not just Toronto and Ottawa.
Big-city mayors have pushed for greater powers for municipalities in the past.
On Wednesday, Crombie reiterated her calls for Mississauga to have more control over taxation and that it should be separate from Peel Region.
"Cities have a growing list of responsibilities, from infrastructure to addressing housing affordability, tackling climate change, building transit, attracting business investment and so much more, and I think it’s time that the province looks at how we can be better supported in a 21st-century world," she said.
Meed Ward said Ontario should have more charter cities, which have expanded powers through custom agreements with the province.
"I will continue to advocate for more powers for municipalities and our councils as a whole, with or without any changes made to the role of mayor," she said.
A better way to expand housing in Ontario would be by doing away with the Ontario Land Tribunal — "an undemocratic, costly and time-wasting body that adds millions of dollars and in some cases years to development approvals that vary only slightly from the initial proposals," she said.
Provincially, the opposition parties are split.
The NDP and Greens said they're against a strong-mayor system.
NDP municipal affairs critic Jeff Burch asked why Ford didn't talk about the move during the recent provincial election. He said the government should focus on issues like housing and health care.
Green Leader Mike Schreiner called it an "attack on local democracy" in a statement.
"The provincial government has many tools at their disposal to build housing supply in cities without increasing sprawl, including several recommendations made by their own Housing Affordability Task Force. For example, ending exclusionary zoning and investing in affordable supply," he said.
Liberal municipal affairs critic Stephen Blais, on the other hand, is taking a wait-and-see approach. Blais, who was an Ottawa city councillor, praised the fact that municipal governments have to run on consensus, as opposed to the provincial government.
"That sometimes makes it tougher. That sometimes slows it down. And there are oftentimes reasons why you want to be able to speed things up. And having additional powers might be beneficial, but that doesn't take away from the fact that consensus is ultimately what should be striven for," he told QP Briefing.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said he supports the idea, saying he understands the province wants to get housing built faster — though some have criticized him for not moving forcefully enough on his own.
On the Toronto strong mayor controversy: John Tory has not used all of his existing powers as mayor to deliver more housing. Not even close.
— Alex Bozikovic (@alexbozikovic) July 20, 2022
He's gotten pushback from left-leaning council members and critics.
Tory's main mayoral challenger, Gil Penalosa, said the current system, while "sometimes messy," is "far better (than) a centralized, top-down approach that places far less weight on neighbourhood priorities."
Toronto will vote on whether to condemn the move on Wednesday after councillor Josh Matlow — who is against the idea — added it to the agenda.