New ‘robust mayor powers’ might be coming to Guelph subsequent 12 months — do town’s mayoral candidates need them?
Whoever is elected Guelph’s mayor on Monday may soon have new powers from the province.
Speaking Oct. 17 in Kanata, outside of Ottawa, Premier Doug Ford said strong-mayor powers — the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa will have the new powers following the municipal election Oct. 24 — will be expanded to more cities in Ontario next year.
“You become the mayor and you get this big, nice office, you’re called mayor, but guess what? You have the same vote as a single councillor. Why?” Ford said at the event, where the $340-million expansion of Nokia’s campus into a mixed use hub was being announced.
“They need the opportunity to move their agenda forward when they get voted in from every single ward in their region. They should have a little more power to make things happen rather than have the same vote as a single councillor.”
Currently, Ontario municipalities operate under what has been dubbed the weak mayor system — while elected citywide, the mayor has no more voting power than a councillor and has limited official powers.
Last month, Ford’s Progressive Conservative party passed the Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act, implementing the strong-mayor system for the province’s two largest cities, giving them new powers when it comes to municipal budgets and the hiring and firing of senior staff. All opposition MPPs, including Guelph’s Mike Schreiner, voted against it.
A vote of two-thirds of council can overrule the mayor on matters deemed a “provincial priority,” which can include affordable housing projects, public transit, highways and other infrastructure.
About a week after the provincial legislation was passed, the current Guelph city council voted unanimously in favour of a motion calling the new mayoral powers unnecessary.
Coun. James Gordon, who is not running for re-election, introduced the motion, telling the Mercury Tribune last month it was “basically an affront to democracy.”
“I think a strong mayor is one who collaborates and one who works as a team. There are quite a few arguments; we don’t always agree, but I think we’ve already got a mayor like that,” he said.
“He has a pretty good track record of that, so it’s not about Cam Guthrie. It’s about the position of the mayor and what it would become.”
Do they even want them?
So what do the city’s mayoral candidates think about the possibility of new powers from the province in 2023? All said the new provincial legislation is not needed, be it for different reasons.
William Albabish said any strong leader “is one that can unify the population on polar issues by suggesting and/or providing viable options.”
“Strong mayor powers will take away from our democratic process — they are only necessary when there is poor leadership,” he said, saying there are other options to provide more housing, such as building more long-term-care homes so those wishing to move into an assisted living situation will be able to do so, thus putting their home back on the market.
Calling the strong-mayor powers “neither necessary or good,” Danny Drew said they will “lead to greater inequality, not a resolution to any crisis.”
“To stop these looming crises, what we need is not less, but more democracy in more places, for more of the time,” they said.
“Being subject to an administration for whom less than half of a populace votes once every four years, without even the basic political tool of ‘recall election’ is a bad joke. We ought to be able to hold referendums on municipal issues outside of elections.”
John Edward Krusky said the majority of residents he has spoken with “who have brought up this issue seem to really dislike the strong mayor concept.”
“Personally, I am opposed to it. I do not see this idea as something that Guelph residents will accept,” he said.
“We select our city councillors, and expect that the democratic processes of deliberation and voting in council will determine the policy direction and legal parameters for our city.”
Cam Guthrie, currently seeking his third term as mayor, pointed the Mercury Tribune to comments he made at the council meeting last month where the strong mayor concept was unanimously rejected. At the time, he said “it is not a power I believe we need.”
“Giving one person the authority to solely guide the direction of an entire municipality may seem like a fantastic idea when you are that person or maybe align with that person, but political lives are fleeting. Tomorrow, there could be someone entirely different in the centre chair.”
Nicholas Ross said he had not seen Ford’s announcement, adding he didn’t “understand that anyways because if you’re the mayor of any city you can’t do much anyways.”
In an email, Shelagh McFarlane said the Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act “is fraudulently attempting to further usurp a mayor’s inherent strong powers, not grant them.”