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Sutcliffe vowing not to use expanded 'strong mayor' powers

Ottawa mayor Mark Sutcliffe says he will not use the expanded “strong mayor” powers announced by the province.

The newly announced provincial legislation would lower the bar for passing certain votes at Ottawa city council.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark announced Wednesday that the expanded “strong mayor” powers for Ottawa and Toronto would allow council to pass bylaws or amendments related to provincial priorities with a vote of more than one-third of members instead of a majority. 

In Ottawa, that means only nine of the 25 available votes would be required to pass or amend certain bylaws that are considered provincial priorities, largely related to housing.

“These bold actions are necessary if our government is to keep its commitment to Ontarians and remove the obstacles standing in the way of much-needed housing,” said Clark in a news release. “That’s why we are again taking decisive action to provide municipal leaders the tools they need to plan for future population growth and get more homes built faster.”

Sutcliffe, who was officially sworn in Tuesday, has previously said he would not use the “strong mayor” powers introduced by the province, which included the ability to veto bylaws that conflict with provincial priorities.

In a statement Wednesday, he reiterated that promise.

“I have been clear that I will not use strong mayor powers. This includes the new provisions announced today,” he said. “I'm focused on ensuring that thousands of new homes are being built in Ottawa, including affordable and supportive homes. The new city council is ready to work together to address barriers that prevent the building of more new homes throughout Ottawa.”

Ahead of the Oct. 24 election, Premier Doug Ford said he was disappointed leading mayoral candidates, including Sutcliffe, said they would not use the powers.

“I think it’s very, very disappointing,” Ford told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s The Morning Rush with Bill Carroll. “A mayor gets the big office, the big title and he has one vote. Why run for mayor then?”

South Orléans-Navan Coun. Catherine Kitts tweeted about the newly announced powers, simply tagging the premier and posting an image showing the definition of democracy, circling the phrase "control of an organization or group by the majority of its members."

Liberal MPP for Orléans Stephen Blais, a former Ottawa city councillor and the Liberal critic for municipal affairs and housing, told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron that this legislation is a “fundamental change to democracy.”

“A lot of these big decisions are going to be determined by whether or not it’s a priority of Doug Ford and Steve Clark in Toronto,” he said.

Blais said that even if Sutcliffe never uses the powers, a future mayor could.

"Would we have wanted Larry O'Brien, as an example, to build light rail with only his vote and one-third of council? Would we want the next council to build phase three of light rail, at a price tag of $4-$5 billion, with just the mayor and one-third of council?" he asked. "What the government's proposing is that they set the priorities for us as a city and they give the mayor the power to pass new legislation and potentially budgets with just a very select group of people."

Blais says it's his understanding that votes with the lower threshold would have to be declared as part of the "strong mayor" provision related to provincial priorities. CTV News Ottawa has reached out to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for more information but has yet to receive a reply.

In a statement, Blais said the government is trying to consolidate power in the hands of a few.

"The Ford government's sole focus with Bill 39 is to subvert our democracy," he said.

The provincial legislation would also give the municipal affairs ministry the power to appoint regional chairs in Niagara, York, and Peel regions and create “provincially-appointed facilitators” to assess the regional governments of Durham, Halton, Niagara, Peel, Waterloo and York and it would repeal an act that protects an agricultural preserve in the Pickering area from development. Top Stories

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