The letter — sent by Art Eggleton, David Crombie, Barbara Hall, David Miller, and John Sewell — came after the province introduced Bill 39 last week, which would build on the “strong mayor” powers already given to the leaders of Toronto and Ottawa.
On Wednesday, Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing revealed Tory had requested a further strengthening of his already enhanced powers.
Previously, the mayor would have been able to veto council decisions, but with the new bill Tory would be able to pass motions with only a third of council support, as long as the issue is deemed of “provincial interest.”
Proposed regulations posted by the province defined those interests as “building 1.5 million new residential units by 2031” and “the construction and maintenance of infrastructure to support accelerated supply and availability of housing including, but not limited to, transit, roads, utilities, and servicing.”
Tory previously said his discussions with the province on the subject were held before Toronto’s municipal election and the expanded powers are necessary because he would have been unable to proactively bring forward provincial priorities without it.
“These enhanced authorities only apply to areas designated as being areas of provincial priority,” he said, “including housing and also maybe transportation or transit.”
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But critics were quick to note that he made no mention of the expanded provisions while campaigning, saying the new powers negatively impact municipal democracy.
In the letter sent to Tory, the former mayors said they were “appalled” at the new bill.
“We are appalled at this attack on one of the essential tenets of our local democracy and a fundamental democratic mechanism: majority rule,” the letter said.
“We are fearful of the real substantive risks this change would pose for our city. The principle of majority rule has always been and must continue to be how council conducts the public’s business.”
The former mayors also took aim at some of the provincial government’s agenda, including its plan to cut the Greenbelt to build new homes, though land will be added elsewhere.
“It is a disturbing future. It includes the unwinding of our Greenbelt and the hollowing out of the mandate of conservation authorities that were created to protect us from environmental disaster,” they said.
“The province is also taking steps toward the intentional reduction of farmland in favour of more urban sprawl and the stripping away of rules and regulations supporting the building of healthy and affordable communities.”
The mayors concluded the letter by calling on Tory, with council, to “soundly” reject Bill 39.
Don Peat, a spokesperson for Tory, said the mayor’s office received the letter Sunday evening and is reviewing it.
“The mayor was clear throughout the election that he supports a ‘strong mayor’ system and he was also clear that his leadership style and overall approach to city council won’t change – he will continue to work with city council to get things done for the people of Toronto,” Peat said.
Peat said Tory has indicated since the bill was introduced that he expects “very limited” use of the measure.
“We raised this change with the province to make sure we can get more housing built as quickly as possible, to avoid NIMBYism, and to help make sure this new system works as efficiently as possible,” Peat said.
— With files from Matthew Bingley