Premier Doug Ford is promising municipal leaders across the province that their powers “will be expanded” in line with the new strong-mayor authority for Toronto and Ottawa.
Speaking to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in Ottawa, Ford touted his bill that is designed to expedite housing construction in the province’s two largest cities.
“Like most of Canada, Ontario is facing a housing crisis decades in the making. Previous governments refused to build the housing we needed and the dream of home ownership slipped away from a generation of Ontarians,” the premier said Monday.
“We’re working with municipalities to crack down on land speculation and protect home buyers from those who are trying to take advantage of them. (Municipal Affairs) Minister (Steve) Clark introduced legislation that goes even further,” he said.
“The Strong Mayors Building Homes Act will provide Toronto and Ottawa with the additional tools needed to advance provincial priorities. Building more homes is at the top of the list.”
But Ford emphasized other municipalities would soon be granted similar powers.
“In the coming months, we’ll have more information on how these tools will be expanded to other municipalities so more municipal leaders like yourselves can help build Ontario,” he said.
As first disclosed by the Star last month, Ford’s Progressive Conservatives are extending the powers in time for the Oct. 24 municipal elections .
Under legislation introduced last week, the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa would have authority over municipal budgets and the hiring and firing of senior city staff.
The mayor could veto any bylaw passed by councillors if it “could potentially interfere with a prescribed provincial priority.”
That includes bylaws affecting housing developments, highways, roads and public transit.
It would take a two-thirds majority vote of council to overturn the mayor’s veto.
Ford said the measures are necessary for the recently re-elected Progressive Conservatives to keep their campaign promise to build 1.5 million new homes over the next decade.
“In 2021, this province saw more than 100,000 new housing starts, the highest level since 1987. As well, the highest level of new rental starts since 1991, but that is just the beginning,” he said.
“The real solution to the housing crisis is to increase supply, full stop. And together, we can get more shovels in the ground with an all hands-on deck effort from all levels of government to build more attainable homes.”
Amid ongoing concerns about staffing shortages in hospitals that have temporarily closed some emergency rooms, Ford assured civic leaders changes are looming.
Health Minister Sylvia Jones “has been actively engaging with our front-line partners to identify concrete solutions,” he said. “I know she’ll have more to say on Wednesday.”
Last Friday, the premier made headlines by hinting that health-care reforms were coming.
“Guys, we can’t continue doing the same thing and pouring billions, which we’ll continue doing, and expecting a different result,” he said. “Something has to give. It’s not a money issue. We have to do things differently, so we’re going to get the best ideas from the professionals and we’re going to implement those ideas.”
That triggered concerns from opposition parties that further privatization was being threatened.
Interim NDP leader Peter Tabuns told AMO delegates that Ford is “focused on changing councils to a strong-mayor system” instead of dealing with health-care challenges.
“I know you’re worried about what will happen when COVID public health subsidies end,” said Tabuns.
“And I know you’re worried that the cut from 35 to just 10 public health units could still go ahead. Public health units have been leaders in rolling out vaccines and boosters,” he said.
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