Ontario Premier Doug Ford has stated that he intends to give the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa’veto’ powers over proposals made by their respective councils, but John Tory has stated that no firm details of any new power have been provided.
Tory told CP24 that he only knows what he read in the Toronto Star about a plan to give the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa new powers to more unilaterally control personnel appointments and financial matters.
“At the moment, there’s nothing written down or done to my knowledge that you can comment on,” he explained.
But during a June 27 meeting between Ford and Tory, the mayor said the suggestion of granting Toronto’s mayor stronger powers did come up.
In video circulating online, Ford told reporters at Queen’s Park Tuesday that his reforms would allow the mayors of Ottawa and Toronto to veto council decisions, with a second measure that would allow council to override a mayor’s veto if two thirds of councillors agreed.
“It came up almost in passing in the context of getting housing built,” Tory said of the idea. “There have been no detailed discussions between myself and the premier on this ever.”
Asked to elaborate on the substance of that conversation by reporters later, Tory said the discussion involved housing and the “leadership” needed to accelerate that process.
“In that meeting there was a passing reference to ‘we’ve got to find ways to get more housing built faster,’ and in the passing it was mentioned ‘you have to be able to show and exercise leadership in doing that,’ that was it,” he said outside his city hall office.
Doug Ford has long admired the municipal system of governance employed by some U.S. cities, where a mayor can act on their own in financial matters and sometimes reject or “veto” proposals made by council.
Tory said he agrees there is a need for council to operate more quickly.
“There’s definitely need, we need to speed up the way we get things done at city hall. The bottom line is we need to get things done, more of them and faster, and that includes getting housing built.”
Asked about plans to alter the City of Toronto or Municipal acts to give mayors stronger powers, a spokesperson for Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark did not deny the Star’s report.
“We know that today in Ontario, too many families are frozen out of the housing market,” Chris Poulos said. “That’s why we have a plan to build 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years and continue to explore ways to help municipalities get more homes built faster.”
Tory said that whatever change is made, he doubted it would involve some sort of veto or override where he could decide something against the wishes of most of council.
“I would be very surprised if any proposal that came forward was one that involved me being able to have this veto that you mentioned where I could say this is my way and that’s it.”
If the Ford government is indeed pondering new powers for the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa, it would mark the second municipal election season in a row where the province meddled in the affairs of Toronto.
But Tory downplayed the impact felt on city affairs from halving council in 2018.
“You can’t do these jobs by yourself, no matter what powers are given in some piece of paper, you have to work with colleagues across the city to get things done.”
“They changed the size of council the last time around, and I think if anything I have worked more closely with council after the change was done.”
Coun. Shelley Carroll said she was considered about the timing of the suggested changes and how the public is learning about them.
“Once again it’s coming during an election season and it’s coming at a time that’s not ideal to talk to the community about it,” she said, referring to the summer 2018 council cut.
“Put out the details, what exactly do you mean by ‘more power,” she said. “When you introduce it at this point, you really wonder if he wants (the community’s) opinion,” Carroll said of Ford.
NDP municipal affairs critic Jeff Burch asked why the premier did not campaign on a plan to give certain mayors more power.