Housing and affordability ‘compel’ Guelph mayor to use ‘strong mayor’ powers

Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie addressing the audience in his state of the city address. Ken Hashizume/CJOY

Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie has had a change of heart and will be using the ‘strong mayor’ powers that were given to him and the 27 other municipal leaders across Ontario.

He used the State of the City address on Thursday to announce that he will be using these special powers throughout the remainder of this term.

Ever since the strong mayor powers, which allow passage of motions with only the support of one-third of Council, were expanded beyond Toronto and Ottawa last July, Guthrie had been mum on whether to use these powers to push through motions that involve housing and the city’s budget.

In front of a packed audience at the Delta Hotel and Conference Centre in Guelph, Guthrie said the decision to accept the new powers was not taken lightly.

“I’m starting to realize that the issues are so grave, of both affordability and housing, that it compels me to have to change my mind,” Guthrie said. “To use a tool, that’s sitting in a toolbox, it would be irresponsible for me to ignore the opportunity to go and use it.”

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Guthrie’s first move with the new powers is to have staff work on the 2025 portion of the multi-year budget with a tax increase of no more than four per cent. The initial budget called for a 9.97 per cent increase in 2025.

Guthrie said this move is by no means a way to get around discussions with council members.

“That will come back to council and we’ll have a discussion on what the impacts are to achieve that goal.”

Guthrie also acknowledged that he expects to face some brushback over his decision to invoke the strong mayor powers on these issues.

“This will mean difficult conversations about how this may impact city services or plans over the next several years,” he said in his speech. “These impacts will be difficult to accept not only for council, not only for the community, but potentially for me.”

Most of council was on hand for the State of the City address and the news of Guthrie’s decision to use the strong mayor powers caught members off guard.

“That’s a huge surprise, did not see that coming,” Coun. Rodrigo Goller said. “I’m concerned about the erosion of democracy that these powers have on the community.”

Coun. Carly Klassen echoed Goller’s concerns.

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“We hadn’t heard Cam talk about the use of strong mayor powers for a year,” Klassen said. “Like Coun. Goller, I have questions. We’ve made a lot of decisions about the budget. I’m curious about a lot of things now.”

However, Goller was pleased to hear that Guthrie intends to use the strong mayor powers to further advance the issue of housing and homelessness. Guthrie said he is directing staff to identify strategic real estate partnerships that will turn underused municipally owned assets into housing, and to provide a report on the logistics for a temporary structured encampment site.

“I will be supporting his actions that help us address those two issues,” Goller said.


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