Kill John Tory’s ‘strong mayor’ powers, Toronto council asks Ford government

Toronto city council is asking Premier Doug Ford to kill a bill that gives Mayor John Tory his expanded “strong mayor” powers.

Council passed the symbolic resolution Thursday. It calls on Ford’s government to repeal Bill 39, the legislation that gives Tory the ability to pass some bylaws with support from a minority on council. While the vote cannot force the Ontario government to take action, its 17-8 margin is a stinging rebuke to the mayor who has defended his request for these powers.

Tory and a group of his key allies voted against the resolution moved by Coun. Amber Morley, who represents Ward 3, Etobicoke-Lakeshore.

“I think it is important for us, as individuals, as leaders in our society, to stand against abuses of power or overreaching of power,” she said in a speech to council.

“I think this is an opportunity for us to make clear our requests of the province on this matter … This bill does not have a place in the City of Toronto and in any modern democracy in the world.”

Coun. Amber Morley is seen here door-knocking during the municipal election campaign back in September. Morley, who represents Ward 3, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, led council’s charge Thursday against May John Tory’s ‘strong mayor’ powers. (Shawn Jeffords/CBC)

The Ford government has said the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa need the powers to cut red tape and build more housing. The expanded powers would give Tory the ability to enact bylaws deemed to align with “provincial priorities” with support from only eight of 25 city councillors. The powers can be used to pass bylaws related to building housing, transit-oriented development or infrastructure. 

Bill 39 passed third reading and received royal assent last week but has yet to be proclaimed into law. That is expected to happen later this month. 

That means Tory can’t yet use the expanded elements of the powers he requested.

Council also adopted Coun. Josh Matlow’s motion asking Tory, and future Toronto mayors, not to use any power that allows them to pass motions with less than 50 per cent support of council.

“Did all of you always agree with David Miller?” Matlow asked his fellow councillors.

“Did you always agree with Mel Lastman? Did you always agree with Rob Ford? … It’s not about one mayor or another mayor. It’s about our democracy.” 

Tory himself did not speak during the debate, but was blunt Wednesday in his assessment of the coming session, calling it “political theatre.”

“You know who talks to me about Bill 39. Nobody,” Tory said. “They talk to me about housing. They talk about community safety. Nobody talks to me about it. Nobody. Nobody.”

Coun. Gord Perks, who represents Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park, says Toronto citizens haven’t been consulted on the ‘strong mayor’ powers the province is giving Tory. (CBC News)

Coun. Gord Perks, who represents Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park, urged councillors not take any immediate action on the bill and instead refer discussion of it back to Tory’s powerful executive committee.

Ultimately, Perks’s motion was defeated. Had it been successful, it would have fired the “strong mayor” issue directly into the gears of city hall, potentially opening it up for months of further dissection from public servants and councillors, as well as deputations from city residents.

“Have we consulted with the people in Toronto? No, we have not. We’ve consulted with nobody. Nobody. Nobody,” he said, mocking Tory and echoing his combative remarks from the day before.

A spokesman for Ontario Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said the province is in a housing crisis because there aren’t enough homes to meet demand.

“That’s why we passed Bill 39, which enables our municipal partners to take decisive action on our shared priority of building 1.5 million new homes over the next 10 years,” Chris Poulos said in a statement.

Help close pandemic budget gap, council tells feds

Meanwhile, ahead of the strong mayor vote, council also agreed to ramp up the pressure on the federal government to help it fill its COVID-19 related budget gap. That now stands at $705 million this year and must be eliminated by law in just a few weeks. 

That voted passed by a margin of 23-2.

It calls on the federal government to honour an election promise to support the city’s budget shortfall. 

The motion also orders Toronto’s treasurer to include a note on property tax assessments in the 25 federal ridings across the city to tell residents the Liberal government didn’t come through with the promised cash. That note would go out ahead of any future federal election.

The province has committed to paying for a third of the city’s budget gap, which is largely because of COVID-19 expenses, but has asked the federal government to also come to the table.

“I think it is time. I think it was appropriate,” Tory said of the resolution.

“I think it is measured, but firm.”

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