By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady
Many of us growing up in the 80s enjoyed the Dukes of Hazzard and laughed at the comical situation created by the powers afforded to Boss Hogg. If this were to play out in real life, in counties like Norfolk and Haldimand, it would be more of a Shakespearian tragedy. Sadly, new legislation will see some Ontario mayors with unprecedented control.
Bill 3, Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act, 2022, recently passed through the Ontario Legislature. Before receiving Royal Assent, the government sent the bill to committee for consideration. I was hoping the committee would make recommendations and amendments to ensure the changes would not result in any abuse of power. Unfortunately, this did not happen.
Ontario’s housing shortage and houses that are affordable have been a hot topic as of late. The current government calls the shortage a crisis and aims to build 1.5 million new homes within the next ten years. In large municipalities like Toronto and Ottawa, it’s often difficult to accomplish things promptly. The incumbent or successive mayors of Toronto and Ottawa, to be chosen on October 24th, will be able to veto particular by-laws that conflict with provincial priorities such as building houses.
It was my hope the legislation would come back from committee specifically naming and limiting the municipalities that could receive such powers – it did not. Premier Doug Ford can expand capabilities to more cities and appoint strong mayors wherever he wishes – essentially, wherever he needs to get a job done!
My other concern is that the legislation gives the authority to go beyond the scope of housing. An appointed strong mayor could prepare and table a budget instead of the traditional budget process that involves staff and the entire council. A strong mayor could also select a chief administrative officer and other department heads on their own and fire them.
Bill 3 is another slap in the face of democracy by eliminating the meaningful role councillors hold on behalf of the local taxpayer who elects them. In municipalities with strong mayors, how do you attract the best to run for council when they are toothless tigers?
I am writing about Bill 3 now because October 24th, the municipal election, is almost at our doorstep. When you cast your vote, I strongly suggest you keep in mind the ramifications of one, or both, of our mayors becoming strong mayors. Remember that your mayor could be given almost absolute power – ask yourself if you trust the person you vote for to have such power? Do you know if the person you vote for is known for making good, sound decisions? Most importantly, who else has the ear or influence of this candidate?
In cities like Toronto and Ottawa, council meetings crawl with reporters who hold council to account. I fear in areas where the small-town newspaper has faded away, transparency has also diminished.
I would have supported Bill 3 if it stopped at Toronto and Ottawa and dealt only with housing. However, this legislation, which is intended to take effect on November 15th, has me more than concerned. Ford now can create all-powerful mayors when and where he likes, making municipalities accountable to the province instead of to the taxpayers they were elected to serve. A veritable Boss Hogg we don’t need.
Look well to your vote on October 24.
Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk