East Toronto councillors hold differing views on increased powers in Strong Mayor system

Councillors representing the East Toronto wards of Beaches-East York, Scarborough Southwest, and Toronto-Danforth have differing opinions on the proposed Strong Mayor system and the powers it will give to Mayor John Tory.

By ALAN SHACKLETON

One East Toronto area councillor is dead-set against it, and two others are cautiously willing to give it a chance as the era of the Strong Mayor system appears to be beginning in the city.

Basically, the provincial government’s Bill 39 Better Municipal Governance Act which was tabled after the Oct. 24 municipal elections aims to give the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa the power to push through certain motions with only the support of one-third of their councils.

The issues that this can be used for relate to provincial priority items such as affordable housing and transit.

However, the idea that city policies and actions can be decided only by one-third of the total number of councillors has raised concerns regarding the abuse of power by the mayors of those councils and the perceived loss of power for council members as a whole.

Also concerning to critics of Bill 39 is that Toronto Mayor John Tory apparently asked Premier Doug Ford for the one-third clause in the act before voters went to the polls but did not mention it during the October election campaign.

Ward 14 Toronto-Danforth Councillor Paula Fletcher is one of a group of politicians, including members of the Ontario NDP, calling on Tory to reject those Strong Mayor powers.

“Nowhere in the world is there a democratic government that passes legislation with only a 1/3 minority,” said Fletcher in her recent news letter to residents. “Indeed Premier (Doug) Ford must pass this legislation with a 51 per cent majority.”

Fletcher pointed out that residents who voted in the municipal election thought they were going to get councillors who would have a strong voice at Toronto City Hall.

“Everyone who voted on Oct. 24 not only voted for a mayoral candidate, but also for a local councillor who they rely on to be a strong voice for them at City Hall. In Toronto-Danforth we’ve stood up against cuts to our libraries, against cuts to our community services like pools, and against privatization. Under Mayor Rob Ford, City Council stopped budget cuts with a one vote margin,” she said in her newsletter.

“The composition of Council will be the most diverse in our history. I welcome the new faces and energy and look forward to working with them and learning from them. I support the statements made by my new colleagues, Councillor Alejandra Bravo, Councillor Jamaal Myers, and Councillor Ausma Malik, in calling for Mayor Tory to withdraw his request for these new powers.”

In response to questions by Beach Metro Community News, Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford said he’s interested in making sure democratic processes are not reduced as a result of Bill 39, but he did not call for Tory to reject its powers.

Scarborough Southwest Councillor Gary Crawford also did not call for Tory to reject the Strong Mayor powers proposed in Bill 39.

Here are the three questions Beach Metro Community News asked Bradford and Crawford regarding the issue, and their responses:

QUESTION: Are you in favour of the proposed Strong Mayor legislation which proposes to give the mayor the power to move through legislation with a 1/3 vote of council? Why or why not?

BRADFORD: “As the only sitting member of Council that all 3 million Torontonians have the opportunity to cast a vote for, I believe there is a case to be made that Toronto’s Mayor should have the ability to drive forward the agenda on which they are elected. While I think we should be cautiously optimistic that these changes could help bring positive changes on the big issues in our city, I’m looking forward to further reviewing a comprehensive report to Council outlining exactly how these Strong Mayor Powers will work in practice. If these powers help us to make our streets safer, our environment greener, our housing more affordable, we should be open to it.”

CRAWFORD:  “I am ready to work with Mayor Tory to get things done. He has a clear mandate to get housing and transit built, both of which are urgently needed.”

QUESTION: This change to only 1/3 of council approval was not mentioned during the municipal campaign, but had apparently already been asked for. Critics are calling this a “betrayal” of voters by the John Tory campaign in that he did not make public that he was seeking this How do you see it?

BRADFORD: “I understand that this change was raised to make sure that the language of the Bill actually legislatively allows us to act on the big priorities it would be used for. If this tool is to be used to get more housing built as quickly as possible, for example, we should make sure the legislation does in fact work efficiently, right from the start. That said, there is a lot of concern over how this process is going to reduce our democratic processes and I’m interested to make sure that doesn’t prove to be correct.”

CRAWFORD: “My focus is on meeting the needs of the residents of Ward 20 and of the City. We have a housing crisis and a transit deficit. We need to remain focused as a City Council on the jobs at hand, and on working with the Mayor to ensure our economy comes back stronger than ever.”

QUESTION: How can you reassure residents in the ward they have a say in the future of the city now that the concept of every vote on council being basically equal no longer exists?

BRADFORD: “Local councillors are an integral component of our municipal democracy and will continue to play an important role in ensuring that their communities are heard on important issues. Councillors are in a unique position of being the local convener and connector between residents and the machine of government.  In my experience, the Mayor’s interest isn’t in micro-managing Councillors and their local issues, nor does he want to bring down the axe on policy across the board. There may be specific circumstances and issues – such as on increasing housing options in our city – where this tool could help move us forward, while also maintaining the importance of residents and Councillors having their say.”

CRAWFORD:  “I can assure my constituents  that I will continue to represent them at Council as I always have done, and their voices will be heard at City Hall. As the Mayor made clear yesterday, his leadership style and overall approach to City Council will not change. Mayor Tory has committed to only using the proactive veto on housing and transit matters of citywide importance, preceded by a staff report and only after trying to forge a consensus at City Council.”

Meanwhile, there is an open letter and petition calling for Bradford and Beaches-East York MPP Mary-Margaret McMahon to urge Tory to renounce the powers in Bill 39.

The open letter attached to the petition concludes with the statement:

“We, the undersigned, alongside many residents of Beaches-East York, ask you to stand up for our city government; we ask you to stand up for us. To join us in our defence of local democracy and to show the people of this ward that our elected officials will not stand by and watch our ability to hold each other and our governments accountable slip away. We refuse to allow our city to be governed by minority rule, and we hope you do too.”

Among those who have signed the petition are one of the challengers for the Ward 19 Beaches-East York council seat in October’s municipal election and a former Ward 31 Beaches-East York councillor. The letter can be found at https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vQAio0VZD3PyPO8C97gR_VWfqGNzz8xVkkDpLNddnc9J0nmpyIQOBsRDrzg38ngKm9w8BR-7HQR5RaT/pub

At Toronto Council’s meeting on Thursday, Nov. 24, a ruling by the Speaker that a discussion on the  Strong Mayor powers would not be discussed that day was approved by a vote of 13-12. There are a total of 26 votes on Council including the mayor’s.

Voting not to discuss the issue on Thursday were Mayor Tory, Councillor Bradford, Councillor Crawford, Councillor Paul Ainslie, Councillor Jon Burnside, Councillor Shelley Carroll, Councillor Vincent Crisanti, Councillor Nick Mantas, Councillor Jennifer McKelvie, Councillor Frances Nunziata, Councillor James Pasternak, Councillor Dianne Saxe, and Councillor Michael Thompson.

Voting to have the issue discussed that day were Councillor Fletcher, Councillor Alejandro Bravo, Councillor Lily Cheng, Councillor Mike Colle, Councillor Stephen Holyday, Councillor Ausma Malik, Councillor Josh Matlow, Councillor Chris Moise, Councillor Amber Morley, Councillor Jamaal Myers, Councillor Gord Perks, Councillor Anthony Peruzza.

Councillor Jaye Robinson did not vote on the issue.


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