Toronto city council is calling on the Doug Ford government to repeal a bill allowing the mayor to pass certain bylaws without a majority vote.
The motion, which was passed at Thursday’s council meeting, was part of a larger debate about the extended strong mayor powers granted to the city earlier this month by the Ontario government.
The legislation, also known as Bill 39, gives the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa the ability to propose and amend bylaws related to provincial priorities with a vote of more than one third of council rather than a majority vote.
For Toronto, this would mean nine out of 25 councillors will need to support the mayor’s agenda.
The new powers, which are now in effect, were specifically requested by Tory and have been highly criticized by the majority of council.
On Thursday, Counc. Amber Morley said that while she knows her motion is primarily symbolic, she felt it was important that council share their opinions with the province.
“I will look to my colleagues for their support to send this symbolic message to the province that this bill does not have a place in the city of Toronto and in any modern democracy in the world and it should be repealed,” she said.
Morley argued the legislation allows certain people to have the power to disenfranchise voices that deserve equity.
“I think it is important for us as individuals, as leaders in our society, to stand against abuses of power or overreaches of power, which we’ve heard time and again is unprecedented.”
The motion passed 17 to 8, with Tory among those who voted no. One councillor was absent from the vote.
Council also voted to request the mayor of Toronto to “not exercise any power that allows for motions to be passed with less than a 50 per cent plus one majority of council” as well as a motion requesting the province to allow the city greater autonomy and decision making regarding traffic safety, housing, cannabis application approvals, and revenue-raising measures.
Council is also requesting the province conduct consultations with the City of Toronto regarding the provincial priorities set forth under the strong mayor powers.
As it stands, the powers can be used for anything related to the building of housing, including the construction and maintenance of related infrastructure such as transit and roads.
‘NOBODY’ TALKS ABOUT BILL 39: MAYOR
Both Tory and Ford have been steadfast in their support of Bill 39, saying that councillors who oppose the measures are playing “political theatre” or just want to hold on to their own power.
Speaking on Wednesday, Tory was adamant that in his conversations with residents, no one has spoken to him about legislation.
“You know who talks to me about Bill 39? Nobody. They talked about housing, they talked about community safety,” he told reporters. “Nobody talks to me about it. Nobody.”
“I’ll tell you what people raised with me: housing, community, safety, transit. That’s what I’m working on here. Not theatrical productions.”
Prior to Bill 39 passing, 15 councillors sent the premier a letter asking him to reconsider the bill until further consultation could take place. That letter, as well as multiple petitions calling for either further consultation or for the legislation to be overturned, were ignored.
When speaking with reporters last week, the premier went so far as to accuse councillors who have criticized the strong mayor powers of wanting to “hold on to their power.”
“Having a councillor that scrapes in with 3,000 votes and has the same voting power as the mayor, that’s what’s trampling on democracy,” Ford said at the time.
Toronto city council did not get a chance to debate or discuss the extended strong mayor powers until after the bill passed in the Legislature, despite calls for a special meeting to be held.
In committee meetings, councillors have said the bill “invalidates the will of voters” and “reduces the democratically elected city council to a tool for an agenda of another government.”
Bill 39 expands on another batch of strong mayor powers granted to Toronto and Ottawa in November. Under that legislation, the mayors have the ability to control the city’s budget, hire and fire department heads, and veto bylaws or amendments that conflict with provincial priorities.
While Tory has said he supports the powers, he also stressed he would first strive for consensus from council and would not use them unless it was an issue of “city-wide importance.”
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