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Councillors, mayoral candidates criticize proposed 'strong mayor' powers for Ottawa mayor


A candidate for mayor calls Premier Doug Ford's idea to give "strong mayor" powers to Ottawa's mayor undemocratic, while another candidate says he would not need any extra powers to push forward with his agenda if elected in October.

Less than 100 days before residents head to the polls to elect a new mayor and councillor, the premier said he is planning to give the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa "veto" powers over proposals made by their respective councils.

Ford says his reforms would allow the mayors of Ontario's two largest cities to veto any council decision, with a second measure that would allow council to override a mayor's veto if two-thirds of councillors agree.

"I just think that the mayor of Toronto or Ottawa, or any mayor, they're accountable for everything but they have the same single vote as a single councillor," Ford told reporters at Queen's Park.

"We'll get into the details later … we'll do the trial."

Coun. Catherine McKenney, one of 10 candidates running for mayor, says 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 told CTV News Ottawa on Wednesday.

"It's taking away legitimate concerns that residents sometimes will have is not the way we want to move forward with how we build our cities."

Mayoral candidate Mark Sutcliffe says new "veto" powers for the mayor is not something that would help residents of Ottawa.

"My goal in running for mayor was to bring a fresh new perspective to city hall and to work with city councillors, democratically elected city councillors, to achieve consensus, to work collaboratively together, to get things done to make Ottawa safe, reliable and affordable," Sutcliffe told Newstalk 580 CFRA's Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron. "I don't need any extra powers to do that if I'm elected mayor, I'm happy to work with the system that we have right now."

Sutcliffe says municipal governments need to see what the actual legislation from the Ontario government says, but he doesn't think he needs it if elected.

"I'm prepared to work with all of those people to get things done for the city; whether it's on affordable housing or keeping taxes as low as possible, keeping recreation fees, fixing public transit – bringing a fresh perspective to that file," Sutcliffe said. "I'm ready to do that within the current system, and I don't need the mayor's office to have any additional powers to get that done."

Mayoral candidate Bob Chiarelli says he tries to work by consensus, but the new powers might help solve break a deadlock at the council table.

"It is a tool that will be available," Chiarelli said Wednesday.

"I would be in favour of it. If we do have a deadlock at council then the power of the mayor can be used to break a tie or break a dispute, and it could be used very responsibly."

McKenney says the mayor of Ottawa doesn’t need so-called "strong-mayor" powers, but cities do need to be stronger.

"Cities need to have more power in terms of their own self-determination," McKenney said. "We are today creatures of the province; but that system was established when most people lived outside of cities, today the vast majority of people live in cities and to not have more democratic and governance powers really as a city just doesn't make much sense."


Three current councillors are against the proposed new "veto powers" for the mayor of Ottawa.

Coun. Riley Brockington says he was blindsided by news of the proposed new powers for the mayor.

"There's been no discussion about this that I'm aware of in Ottawa, certainly not from city council. It's not really anything that was on our radar screen," Brockington said. "I guess the main question that I have is, what's the problem that exists that we're trying to solve here?"

Brockington says we live in a democracy and all different voices are heard at the council table.

"Everyone gets the fair and equal time to speak their mind, and most importantly – the most important thing here is everyone has an equal vote."

Coun. Eli El-Chantiry says the proposal would take away power from councillors, especially in a city the size of Ottawa where there are major differences of opinion.

"You're taking away some of the people's rights by doing this," El-Chantiry said.

Coun. Laura Dudas, who is the current deputy mayor, told Newstalk 580 CFRA there is no problem with our current system.

"I don't understand what the problem is the premier is trying to solve," Dudas said. "Democracy is not a straight line, it's a zig-zag and it's takes time and it can be messy.

"We need to make sure that we're working as a team and it doesn't help anyone to have only one voice at the helm doing whichever they choose to do."

With files from The Canadian Press Top Stories

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