Toronto council asks province for more autonomy as Ford mulls ‘strong mayor’ system

Toronto City Council will formally ask the Ford government to hand it greater control and autonomy over a number of matters as the province considers handing the greater more executive authority.

In a motion passed Thursday, the council asked that the province consult with the city on governance ahead of any changes and grant it additional powers in a number of areas including traffic safety measures, planning and housing, cannabis and liquor licences, and revenue-raising measures and budgeting.

The motion comes after the revelation, first reported by the Toronto Star, that Ontario Premier Doug Ford is considering legislating strong mayor powers for Toronto and Ottawa, similar to the executive authorities enjoyed in many cities in the US, ahead of the October municipal elections.

While it is not yet clear exactly what powers the new legislation might grant the mayor, it is thought that it would give the city’s highest elected official more control over the municipal budget and housing matters.

Toronto currently has a weak mayor system, which means that the mayor is the highest elected official, but still represents just one vote on council when it comes to most decision making.

Ford said Wednesday that “we’ll get into the details later” when it comes to the specific powers that would be granted, but he said that a two-thirds majority would be able to overrule the mayor at council.

Council’s motion highlights the fact that while the province may be considering handing the greater greater autonomy, the provincial government still holds much of the authority when it comes to big decisions.

For example when Mayor John Tory wanted to toll the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway in order to raise much-needed revenues several years ago, then-premier Kathleen Wynne denied the request as the province still holds authority over Toronto’s highways.

In its motion, the council pointed out that stronger autonomy in the areas requested is a feature of many “strong major” systems in US cities.

While council asked the province Thursday to give it greater autonomy, it chose not to oppose a move toward a strong greater system altogether, rejecting a motion by Coun. Josh Matlow that would have asked the province not to implement the system.

BOARD OF TRADE VOICES SUPPORT FOR STRONGER MAYORAL POWERS

Toronto’s Board of trade also weighed in on the issue Thursday, indicating its support for giving the greatest stronger powers.

In a statement, the Toronto Region Board of Trade said that it “welcomes government action” to provide Toronto with stronger major powers.

“Toronto faces numerous urgent city-wide challenges, from housing, land use, transit, transportation, budget, economic development and climate,” the board said in its statement. “Effective, timely solutions require a city chief executive with clear authority to set an agenda, appoint senior City staff, and bring forward policy solutions to Council with greater influence over outcomes.”

The board of trade said that it has advocated stronger powers for Toronto’s mayor for almost two decades and that the current consensus-based system “hurts businesses.”

“The current structure stifles Toronto’s growth, competitiveness and quality of life as one of North America’s largest urban metropolises, and hurts businesses,” the board said.

In a speech to the board of trade several weeks ago, Mayor John Tory laid out his vision for the city’s finances and said that he is focused on economic recovery.

Tory, who is up for reelection in October, promised that he would assemble a volunteer panel of accomplished leaders to advise him about the economic challenges Toronto faces as it continues to emerge from the pandemic.

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