On Aug. 10, 2022, the Hon. Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing introduced the provincial government’s “Bill 3: An Act to amend various statutes with respect to special powers and duties of heads of council”, known as the Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act, 2022 (the “Act”). It received Royal Assent on September 8, 2022. Its provisions will come into force with the next term of Council on November 15, 2022, following Ontario’s municipal election on October 24, 2022.
The Act, which includes amendments to the City of Toronto Act, 2006, the Municipal Act 2001, and the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, bestows new powers on the mayors of Ottawa and Toronto intended to allow the mayors to advance provincial priorities. The Act may have implications for Ontario’s other 442 municipalities as well, both in the sense that the mayoral powers can be provided to the mayors of additional municipalities at any time, and because changes to the provision of housing legislation in Ontario’s two largest municipalities may generate impacts, intentional or otherwise, on the provision of housing in other municipalities.
The “strong powers” identified, intended to allow the mayors to advance provincial priorities, include:
- Hiring Key Municipal Leaders and Defining Departments
- Establishing and Putting Committees and Boards in Place
- Bringing Forward Provincial Priority Matters for Council Consideration
- Establishing the City Budget
- Powers to Veto By-laws and Override Council Decision
Some of the powers are optional or discretionary – including the power to give direction to municipal employees, hire the CAO and determine the organizational structure of the municipality – while others, such as the appointment of the chairs and vice chairs of prescribed local boards, are specifically assigned to the mayor, but can be delegated. The powers and duties with respect to proposing and adopting a budget are assigned to the mayor. Subject to further information in the regulations, this responsibility cannot be delegated. The Act also includes amendments regarding the ability to fill a vacant mayoral seat and duties of a mayor when they have a pecuniary interest in a matter.
Here is a breakdown of the new mayoral powers described in the Act:
Hiring Key Municipal Leaders and Defining Departments
The Act gives the mayors of Ottawa and Toronto the ability to appoint their municipality’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) or to delegate the decision to Council. Mayors are also able to hire certain department heads, though some “statutory” positions are excluded, including the clerk, treasurer, integrity commissioner, chief of police, chief building official, medical officer of health and others. The mayor may also delegate this power to Council or the CAO.
Getting Committees and Boards in Place
Municipalities and their councils are often supported by committees and local boards. The Act allows mayors to independently create new identified committees and to appoint chairs and vice-chairs of the identified committees and local boards. The Act allows a mayor to unilaterally change the make-up of a committee, in order for it to best support a municipality.
Bringing Forward Provincial Priority Matters for Council Consideration
Provincial priorities may require the participation of municipalities in order to be achieved. The Act empowers mayors to direct items to council, and to direct staff to develop proposals to be brought forward for council consideration, that could potentially advance a provincial priority such as building more housing.
Directing the City Budget
Municipal budgets define priorities for their communities by identifying what services and projects are forecast each year. The Act makes a mayor responsible for proposing the municipal budget for council consideration. As part of the budget process, Council is able to make changes to the mayor’s proposed budget, which the mayor can then veto. Council can override a mayoral veto with a two-thirds majority vote. The result at the end of the process would become the municipality’s budget for the year.
Powers to Veto By-laws and Council Override
The Act gives a mayor power to veto council’s passing of a by-law if all or part of the by-law could potentially interfere with a provincial priority. To ensure there is no abuse of power, council can override a mayoral veto of by-laws related to provincial priorities, with a two-thirds majority vote. The mayor remains as a member of council (with one vote) for council decision-making, including the decision to override a mayoral veto, and can participate in the vote.
Filling a Vacant Mayoral Seat
There are times when a mayor’s seat may become vacant before a regular election. The Act requires a municipality to fill the mayor’s seat through a by-election. The existing rules for how by-elections are run would still apply. If a mayor’s seat becomes vacant after March 31 in the year of a regular municipal election, the municipality is required to appoint a mayor, who would not have these new powers. This does not impact the flexibility that these municipalities currently have in deciding how to fill other vacant council seats – they would have the choice to appoint someone or have a by-election.
For the purpose of this Act, provincial priorities will be defined later in the Act’s regulations – which have not yet been released. It is anticipated that provincial priorities will include the construction of 1.5 million homes in the next 10 years as well as the construction and maintenance of infrastructure, such as transit and roads, to help build housing faster and to support new and existing residential development. It is expected that the construction of additional homes will contribute to housing affordability in the province. The City of Ottawa declared a housing crisis and emergency in January 2020, though this declaration did not create any specific additional powers to relieve the situation.
The timing of the Act, which received Royal Assent within a month of it first being introduced, has been questioned by the opposition parties. They suggest Premier Ford is interfering with municipal politics before the municipal elections.
Mayoral reaction to the Act has been mixed. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, whose current period as Mayor has included three consecutive terms beginning in 2010, and who was previously the mayor of the former City of Ottawa from 1997-2000, is not seeking re-election in October. He has spoken in opposition to the Act suggesting that it will diminish the effectiveness and impact of municipal councillors, and that a strong mayor can be effective within the current system without the additional powers proposed by the Act. Toronto Mayor John Tory is seeking re-election for a third term in October. He has spoken in support of the Act, stating that he is determined to get more housing built, regardless of the powers that he may have or require as mayor. Across the province, other Mayors considering the possibility that the new powers could be extended to other municipalities, have expressed both support and opposition.
The provision of housing is a complex issue. It is not just politically driven. There are land supply issues to consider, both in the case of municipalities that are fully built out and in the case of municipalities where the protection of agricultural land is a top consideration. Interest rates also impact housing starts and construction as does the supply shortage of materials and skilled trades.
The impact of the Act will be impossible to know until the provincial priorities are revealed and until the Mayors of Ottawa and Toronto are elected. Depending on the results of the election, either very little or a great deal about the operation of the Cities of Ottawa and Toronto, could change.
 S.O. 2006, c. 11
 S.O. 2001, c. 25
 R.S.O. 1990, c. M.50