Here's what Ottawa's mayoral candidates are saying about Ontario's 'strong mayor' legislation
The Ontario government has tabled new legislation that would grant additional powers to the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa.
The legislation, dubbed the 'Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act', would give the mayors of the province’s two largest cities the power to hire and fire department heads, single-handedly propose the municipal budget, and veto bylaws approved by council if they are “related to matters of provincial authority,” though the mayoral veto could be overturned if two-thirds of council vote to overrule it.
The Ford government touted the legislation as a tool to give the mayors the ability to “move priority projects forward and get more homes built faster.”
Outgoing mayor Jim Watson says he did not ask the provincial government for additional powers and disagreed with the proposal.
"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," he told CTV News at Noon.
However, Watson won’t be the mayor when the powers come into effect once the legislation is passed.
CTV News Ottawa asked all 12 mayoral candidates their thoughts on the legislation.
Brandon Bay told CTV News Ottawa he does not support the strong mayor proposal and doesn’t believe it will improve the city.
“Unilateral powers to appoint committee heads, develop the budget, and veto council's decisions are of particular concern,” he said.
“The province’s stated goals with these changes, building housing and moving faster, are good, and are central to my platform. However, giving too much power to one office undermines council, voters, and democracy. There is a huge potential for corruption in these changes.
“The mayor, as any leader, should lead council by working with them. The highest office should have the strongest vision for what kind of incredible city we will be, and work with councillors and residents to build it. Agreement and consensus should be won through diplomacy and inspiration, and decisions should be made as a group.
“Working together leads to the best decisions, just not always fast ones. In a crisis situation, having emergency act type powers available may be appropriate, but even then it would be best to empower the council or a committee of it, instead of a single elected official.”
Bob Chiarelli has not yet replied to a request for comment Wednesday, but previously said, when news of the proposed legislation was first announced, that he would be in favour of using it to break a council deadlock.
"It is a tool that will be available," Chiarelli said. "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."
Bernard Couchman replied to CTV News Ottawa’s request to simply say, “No comment.”
Graham MacDonald said he is in favour of the strong mayor powers.
“As a former CEO I do support the proposed "Strong-Mayor" powers as a tool to effectively and efficiently get more housing built in Ottawa, this tool will ensure the wants and needs of the citizens of Ottawa are being met.”
Catherine McKenney says that the cities need their own powers, but it should not be concentrated in the mayor.
“I’ve never supported strong mayor model. It’s undemocratic. It takes away the democratic rights of residents who elect both a mayor and the councillors,” McKenney told CTV’s Natalie van Rooy. “To be able to overrule any decision by council with only 33 per cent of the vote essentially and it’s not what we need to move forward to make our city more affordable for everyone.
“What we need really is a strong city model where actual cities have more power. Very little has been denied. Applications come to us and most have been accepted. I find it hard to understand how this will allow developers to push projects through any quicker.
“I agree we can tighten up our processes to get applications through but to ignore everyone’s voice at the table really is undemocratic.”
Ade Olumide said while he supports stronger mayoral powers, but he does not support a mayoral veto, which he says can be anti-democratic, "because requiring a party leader to maintain the confidence of the caucus is a healthy check to the risk of dictatorship."
“The Ontario government is right to identify a potential democratic deficit between a city-wide mayoral platform that was communicated to city-wide voters and a group of Councillors imposing a major platform that was not communicated to city-wide voters; however Mayoral Candidate Ade Olumide does not support giving a mayor power to dictate to Council, he supports a Constitutional Municipal Political Parties solution” he wrote.
Olumide also doesn't support a Council veto.
Param Singh said he “totally disagrees” with a strong mayor system.
“We can agree to disagree, but we must always respect one another and not only listen but understand each other in order to move forward as a council for the greater good of our residents,” he said.
“We need to work together as a team, not continue creating a divide within council. If elected mayor, I will bring the new council together.”
Mark Sutcliffe issued a press release Wednesday when the legislation was tabled to say the new powers are unnecessary.
"More housing is needed, but special powers for mayors are not," Sutcliffe said in a statement. "What the city of Ottawa needs is a fresh perspective on housing.
"I am the only candidate for Mayor who can build consensus to get more housing built, everywhere in the city. I'll do it in a way that's balanced and engages all of Ottawa city council to solve this crisis, through effective leadership - not through unilateral decision-making. Other candidates for mayor cannot build that consensus. I can, and I will."
Celine Debassige has yet to reply to CTV News Ottawa’s request for comment.
Mike Maguire said he would not use a veto if he becomes mayor.
“The real question is, ‘would I as Mayor use the veto?’ and the answer is ‘no’. It’s not only unnecessary in Ottawa, its usage would represent a failure to present a compelling vision to Council,” he said.
However, he also said a ‘strong mayor’ system could be worthwhile if it achieves its stated goal of improving housing.
“I think it's a fair question to ask, "why is it so difficult and why does it take so long to get a building permit in Ottawa?" If just having Strong Mayor authority (without using it) makes Council more efficiently deal with Planning, Zoning and Permitting then it's worth it.”
Gregory Guevara tells CTV News Ottawa, "Ford is a friend of ours. We asked him months ago to give us more power in order to enact the policies we have planned upon our election, and he agreed. While he did his best, the policy does not go far enough and we hope to see the mayoral powers further expanded, so that we will better be able to implement our policies."
Nour Kadri said he is supportive of the mayor having more authority than a ward councillor does, but said he would only use the strong mayor powers in “exceptional circumstances.”
“It is very limiting from the standpoint of effective governance and leadership for the Mayor to hold one vote on council when the responsibilities of overseeing a major city with urban, suburban and rural competing priorities are so immense,” he said. “To best serve the residents of Ottawa, the Mayor should have more authority than a ward councillor, but that authority should not defeat the majority of the council. As a collaborative leader I always seek to build consensus. Expanded powers come with tremendous responsibility. I would not make use of such powers other than in exceptional situations where leadership is called upon to make decisions that support the safety, betterment, and well-being of all the residents of Ottawa.”
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