Toronto’s Board of trade is indicating its support for giving the mayor stronger powers as city council debates the issue.
In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, the Toronto Region Board of Trade said that it “welcomes government action” to provide Toronto with stronger mayor powers.
“Toronto faces numerous urgent city-wide challenges, from housing, land use, transit, transportation, budget, economic development and climate,” the board said in its statement. “Effective, timely solutions require a city chief executive with clear authority to set an agenda, appoint senior City staff, and bring forward policy solutions to Council with greater influence over outcomes.”
The statement comes after the revelation, first reported by the Toronto Star, that Ontario Premier Doug Ford is considering legislating strong mayor powers for Toronto and Ottawa, similar to the executive authorities enjoyed in many cities in the U.S., ahead of the October municipal elections.
While it is not yet clear exactly what powers the new legislation might grant the mayor, it is thought that it would give the city’s highest elected official more control over the municipal budget and housing matters.
Toronto currently has a weak mayor system, which means that the mayor is the highest elected official, but still represents just one vote on council when it comes to most decision making.
Ford said Wednesday that “we’ll get into the details later” when it comes to the specific powers that would be granted, but he said that a two-thirds majority would be able to overrule the mayor at council.
The board of trade said Thursday that it has advocated stronger powers for Toronto’s mayor for almost two decades and that the current consensus-based system “hurts businesses.”
“The current structure stifles Toronto’s growth, competitiveness and quality of life as one of North America’s largest urban metropolises, and hurts businesses,” the board said.
In a speech to the board of trade several weeks ago, Mayor John Tory laid out his vision for the city’s finances and said that he is focused on economic recovery.
Tory, who is up for reelection in October, promised that he would assemble a volunteer panel of accomplished leaders to advise him about the economic challenges Toronto faces as it continues to emerge from the pandemic.
The idea of handing the mayor stronger powers has already drawn criticism from other members of council. A motion being debated by city council today asks council to affirm its position that any changes to Toronto’s elections or governance structure should be decisions made by Toronto City Council. The motion, brought forward by Coun. Josh Matlow, also specifically asks that the province not implement a strong mayor system for Toronto.
Whatever the outcome of the motion, it is likely to be little more than symbolic since the constitution grants municipalities no enshrined powers of their own and the Ford government has previously demonstrated indifference to the wishes of council when it comes to making changes to the structure of municipal government.