'A solution looking for a problem': Ottawa's mayor says 'strong mayor' powers not needed
Ottawa's outgoing mayor says he sees no need for the Ontario government to introduce so-called "strong mayor" powers for the mayors of Ottawa and Toronto.
Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark introduced the 'Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act,' at Queen's Park on Thursday afternoon, with the government saying it would give mayors the ability to move priority projects forward and get more homes built faster.
The legislation would give the mayors of Ottawa and Toronto sweeping new powers, which will give them sole responsibility for preparing the municipal budget for council approval, as well as the ability to hire and fire department heads and create and re-organize departments. Mayors would also be able to veto bylaws approved by council if they relate to matters of provincial priority.
"It's really a solution looking for a problem. We didn't ask for additional powers, I didn't ask for additional powers as mayor," Mayor Jim Watson told CTV News Ottawa on Wednesday, hours before the legislation was tabled.
"I've worked well over the last three terms of council; we've got about 98.2 per cent of the issues that I've brought forward for votes have passed. We're a consensus based government; it's not a unanimous government, we don't always agree."
Watson estimates 90 per cent of the votes at council this term have been unanimous.
Tuesday's throne speech indicated the "strong mayor" system will let municipal leaders reduce timelines for development, standardize processes and address local barriers to increasing housing supply.
Watson says there are other ways the Ontario government can increase housing construction in Ottawa and across Ontario.
"They provide more funding because it costs more money to build houses and the province has greater financial capacity than a municipality does. Secondly, they can allow us to implement inclusionary zoning in and around the city, not just in transit areas," Watson said.
Currently, the mayor and a councillor each have a single vote on a motion before a committee and council, with a majority needed to pass. The so-called "strong mayor" system would provide the mayor with executive power to pass legislation without the support of council members.
"It really takes away what we have right now is a check and balance system," Watson said Wednesday afternoon.
"Members of council can hold me and my office to account and I think that's a good system, but if they have to gather up two-thirds of their members to overturn a mayor's decision that's not really democratic at all."
Two of the frontrunners in the race for mayor have said they do not support the "strong mayor" powers.
"More housing is needed, but special powers for mayors are not," candidate Mark Sutcliffe said in a statement.
"What the city of Ottawa needs is a fresh perspective on housing."
Mayoral candidate and current Coun. Catherine McKenney said last month that the cities need their own powers, but not the mayor.
"I see this overall as an undemocratic move. Certainly, we need to empower people, not put all of the power in the hands of one person on council," McKenney said.
Mayoral candidate Bob Chiarelli said he tries to work by consensus, but the new powers might help solve a deadlock at the council table.
With Watson preparing to leave Ottawa City Hall in November after 12 years as mayor, he says he would never support the proposed new powers.
"I've met no one in the last 12 years that said, 'Would you like more power and would you support asking for more power?' And my answer if I was asked that would be absolutely not."
With files from The Canadian Press and CP24's Chris Fox