Pickering Mayor set to exercise Strong Mayor Powers during budget debate

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Published September 18, 2023 at 9:05 am

Pickering Mayor Kevin Ashe will be taking advantage of the recently awarded Strong Mayor Powers to take a “hands-on and critical approach” to this year’s budget talks to ensure there isn’t a repeat of this year’s 5.31 per cent property tax increase.

Last fall, the provincial government gave the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa enhanced powers to make budgetary, city staff and housing-related decisions, with those powers rolled out to another 26 municipalities with populations with 100,000 or more – including all five of Durham Region’s urban lakeshore communities in in late spring.

The goal of these powers, according to then-Housing Minister Steve Clark, is to expedite housing development. Decisions mayors make with new powers can only be overridden by a two-thirds majority of municipal council.

Ashe said he would take “decisive action” following the June announcement that the Strong Mayor Powers would be expanded to Pickering and on September 5 he did just that, with a direction related to the 2024 budget deliberations approved at a special meeting of City Council.

“Strong Mayor Powers is a system that gives me, in my role as Mayor, a set of executive powers to manage the business of municipal government. It is meant to offer the tools to help us cut red tape and speed up the delivery of key shared municipal-provincial priorities such as housing, transit and infrastructure and streamline certain decision making at the municipal level – such as the preparation of the annual Budget,” Ashe explained. “Our aim is to streamline our financial processes, make judicious decisions, while working diligently to tighten our Budget, without compromising the essential services, projects, and amenities our community relies on.”

The decision to use his newly minted ‘super-powers’ has not gone over well with everyone on his council, with Ward 1 Councillor Lisa Robinson calling it “undemocratic” in a YouTube video.

Lisa Robinson

“With the Mayor having sole authority over budget drafting ,there is an increased risk of personal biases or political considerations influencing financial decisions,” she said. “If we are not involved in the budget drafting process, the perspectives of different segments of the population may not be adequately considered, leading to an imbalance in resource allocation, undermining fairness and impartiality of budget allocations.”

Ashe, however, emphasized that every council member will “continue to be informed of any activities related to the 2024 Budget” and have the ability to suggest amendments. The public will also be able to provide comment, he added.

“I understand the responsibility that comes with this authority, and all decisions and directions I take related to these powers will continue to be posted publicly online to ensure full transparency,” he said.

The new powers can help him implement the agenda on which he was elected, Ashe added. “Historically, we have employed a ‘budget-by-committee’ approach,” he said, noting that the system “may not always yield the most efficient and cost-effective outcomes.”

This year’s property tax hike was a “tough pill” to swallow for many residents, Ashe said. “By utilizing the Strong Mayor Powers, I am committed to taking a more hands-on and critical approach to our Budget ensuring that our residents won’t face a similar tax increase next year.”

The special powers granted large city mayors by the Province – with the overarching goal of ensuring Ontario is able to build 1.5 million new homes by 2031 – allow Ashe and other mayors the ability to:

  • Hire and fire the Chief Administrative Officer or other key staff
  • Establish or dissolve Council committees, assign the committee’s functions and appoint the Chairs and Vice Chairs
  • Prepare and propose the budget, subject to Council amendments, and provide the ability to veto such amendments, which are subject to an override process that may be accomplished by two-thirds of the Council
  • Require Council to consider matters that could potentially advance a provincial priority
  • Require Council to consider and vote on a by-law that in the Mayor’s opinion could potentially advance that provincial priority, with just one-third of Council votes required for passage
  • Veto by-laws that could potentially interfere with a provincial priority
  • Direct staff to undertake research and provide advice on policies and programs as they relate to the Mayor’s powers and duties and direct staff to perform such duties and implement any decisions made by the Mayor

The Mayor may also choose to delegate these specific powers and duties.

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