The questions that should be put to the mayoralty candidates in election meetings leading to Oct. 24 are pretty straightforward. They all revolve around the exercise of powers the new mayor will have under Bill 3, the Strong Mayors, Building Housing Act.
Bill 3 assigns the mayor the power to do virtually everything of importance normally done by city council. The mayor can determine the organizational structure of council, including the number of wards; the way that community councils function; and so forth. The mayor can appoint committee chairs and deputy chairs — something that is normally done by the committees themselves — as well as for agencies, boards (such as hockey rinks) and commissions. The mayor can hire and fire city staff, except for a few positions, something normally done by council as a whole by majority vote. Now the mayor can direct council to do what they want, something that has always been prevented under the current system. The mayor will prepare and approve the city budgets. All these powers can be challenged only by a two-thirds vote of council, something very unlikely because the mayor will entice at least a third of council with chair positions and other perks.
The mayor can veto decisions thought to “potentially intervene with provincial priorities.”
What those priorities are is not yet clear: they will be set out in a regulation approved by the provincial cabinet meeting in secret. This means the mayor is subservient to the province, not to city council or the people of Toronto.
It is an unprecedented realignment of decision-making, assigning all this power to one person who is subservient to the province and stripping these powers from the elected representatives of the city.
Mayor John Tory has said that in principle he supports this realignment.
The bill disempowers democratically elected city councillors and centralizes all meaningful decision-making. It is a deliberate effort to take away from local residents their ability to have a say over the decisions that affect their lives. It is profoundly undemocratic.
It builds on the forced amalgamation of Toronto in 1997 and the arbitrary decision by the Ford government four years ago to cut the number of wards in half.
The net result, if Bill 3 passes, will have the effect of cutting residents out of meaningful decision-making.
The key question to mayoral candidates is: Do you agree that you will only exercise these powers if they have been endorsed by a majority vote of city council? Agreement of mayoral candidates on this issue will ensure that power is not in the hands of just one person, but instead, in the hands of the city’s elected representatives as it has been for the last 188 years.
The question for the candidates for city council in the upcoming election is how they will respond to this legislation.
If the mayor refuses to seek the majority of council for decisions, will the candidate agree to refuse to attend council so that there is no quorum for a council meeting?
I keep wondering about the mode of municipal government that Premier Ford has in mind with this realignment of power in Bill 3. I think he likes the new model that Premier Xi has imposed on Hong Kong: get rid of local democracy to make sure it does not interfere with what you want to do.
Scary. These are very troubling times in Toronto.