By Joe Konecny
Aylmer Express / Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Elgin County mayors differ on the approach being taken with Premier Doug Ford’s Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act and some bristle at the potential for its expansion to rural Ontario.
Ford’s Progressive Conservative government tabled Bill 3 at Queen’s Park on August 10, 2022. The legislation would provide the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa with the sole authority to:
- draft municipal budgets;
- hire and fire chief administrative officers and municipal department heads, and create and re-organize departments;
- appoint chairmen and vice-chairmen of municipal committees and local boards; and
- veto bylaws approved by council if they relate to matters of “provincial priority.”
Ford has said that he is open to extending the enhanced powers to other municipal mayors.
“That’s a good way to be just a four-year mayor,” Southwold Mayor Grant Jones mused in an interview on August 12, 2022. “It’s got to be a team effort, including staff and Council.
“You try to build a team, with different people specializing in different aspects of issues,” he added. “You have to work together to get a consensus.”
The new powers would not apply to statutory appointments, such as chiefs of police, or medical officers of health. Vetos could be overruled by a two-thirds council vote, if initiated within 21 days. The Province has not yet define “provincial priority.”
If approved, the proposed legislation would take effect at the beginning of the next term of council, November 15, 2022.
“In my opinion that is not democracy,” said Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn. “The mayor is always one vote and decisions on all matters are made by council as a whole. I think this would be a very disturbing change. I am totally opposed to this.”
Ford is positioning the changes as a response to the recent Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force Report which recommends building 1.5 million homes in the province over the next 10 years.
The report describes a “housing crisis” where the average price to buy a home in Ontario rose to $923,000 in 2021 from $329,000 just 10 years ago.
It also recommends the creation of “more housing supply by allowing more housing in more locations ‘as of right,’ without the need for municipal approval … ”.
“Let’s get it started,” Rob Flack said in an interview on August 12, 2022. The Elgin–Middlesex–London Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) was in Talbotville last week, acknowledging the opening of a new park.
“We have to give these mayors the ability to act fast,” added Flack. “This is about speeding up good development.”
Bill 3 is likely to cause a stir among the more than 1,700 participants from hundreds of municipalities and organizations across Ontario who will take part in the Association of Municipalities of Ontario’s 2022 AMO conference this week in Ottawa. The educational forum for municipal governments runs from August 14 to 17 2022.
“A bit scary at first glance,” said Deputy Mayor Tom Marks, a candidate for Central Elgin mayor. “Attempts to speed things up I guess. Some of us are attending the AMO convention in Ottawa (and will) probably hear a lot more then. I doubt that it will come here. Gawd, I hope not.”
St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston added: “I don’t know enough about it. I’m off to AMO … where I will learn all about it. I can’t speculate when, if ever, it will be assigned to cities our size.”
Provincial literature promoting the government’s bold move hypes up the point that 35 per cent of Ontario’s projected growth to 2031 is expected to occur in Toronto and Ottawa, without directly addressing the impact on rural communities.
“As I’m sure is the case with most mayors, I am closely following the discussions surrounding the proposed new legislation to better understand how these changes will support the advancement of provincial priorities, including an increase in housing supply and housing affordability,” said Mary French, Aylmer Mayor and Elgin County Warden.
“Municipalities are always looking for ways to be more efficient and effective,” added French. “It will be interesting to monitor how these legislative changes impact the way business is conducted in Toronto and Ottawa, if passed, and consider how it would apply to smaller municipalities.”
Urbanization claims an average of 175 acres of productive farmland every day, according to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA). With Ontario’s average farm size being 249 acres, that’s a loss of five family farms a week. Only five per cent, or 13.3 million acres, of Ontario’s 266-million-acre land mass is suitable for farming.
A recent Statistics Canada release, Canada’s fastest growing and decreasing municipalities from 2016 to 2021, and the, Census Profiles taken from Statistics Canada’s 2021 Census of Population, show rapid growth occurring in Elgin County.
The City of St. Thomas’ population has grown 10.1 per cent from 2016 to 2021, even more than the 10 per cent growth rate in London, and if that trend continues, St. Thomas can expect another 10,000 new residents in a decade.
Aylmer’s populations increased 2.8 per cent – 7,492 to 7,699 – from 2016 to 2021; Southwold’s population has grown 9.7 per cent in that period; Central Elgin’s population increased nine per cent. It’s estimated that about 61 per cent of Elgin County’s growth in that period occurred in Central Elgin.
“I’m not sure where the Province is heading to with this new item,” said Central Elgin Ward 2 Councillor Dennis Crevits, a candidate for mayor in the October 24, 2022 municipal election. “However, the budget process as outlined to be the mayors’ responsibility would result in little, if any change. Resolutions passed during the year set the agenda for the budget.
“The mayoral veto power is only for provincial policy items which can also be overturned with two-thirds of council,” he added. “The main thrust of this veto, as I see it, is to promote building of affordable housing.
“I am not in favour of the mayors’ ability to be the only one to hire a CAO. This should be done as council as a whole,” Crevits continued. “The mayor currently appoints members of council to various committees. The appointment of a committee chair should and will remain the function of the committee.
“The ability for the mayor to add items to the agenda is an odd approach,” he added. “This is one of the items in which the Act, I believe, gives the large cities the ability to promote and speed up affordable housing projects.”
Malahide Township Deputy Mayor Dominique Giguère, a candidate for mayor said: “I am looking forward to learning more about the new mayor powers being piloted in Ottawa and Toronto. Perhaps it will open the door to discussions and more recognition that one size does not fit all, including the other end of the spectrum, such as small rural municipalities.”