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Guelph mayor hopes he won’t have to use ‘strong mayor’ powers

Guelph mayor Cam Guthrie delivering State of the City speech to an audience on Feb. 2. Ken Hashizume/CJOY

“It is a tool in a toolbox.”

That is how Guelph mayor Cam Guthrie is describing the decision by the Ford government to expand the so-called “Strong Mayor” powers to cities such as Guelph, Hamilton, London, Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge. It would allow for the passage of certain motions to be passed with only one-third support of council. The heads of 26 municipal councils across Ontario will join Toronto and Ottawa in receiving the additional authority starting July 1.

Guthrie issued a statement through the City of Guelph’s website after the province made the announcement last Friday. He said as a former city councillor, he would like to have a say on matters impacting the city.

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“To me, (this legislation) starts to diminish that role,” Guthrie said. “A councillor can give opinions, ideas, and feedback. No one mayor knows everything about every issue.”

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Part of the reason for the expansion of the strong mayor powers is to expedite planning matters like housing. Bill 23, or the More Homes Build Faster Act, calls for 1.5 million homes to be built in Ontario by 2033.

“It is about empowering municipal leaders to give them the tools to get the job done,” said Steve Clark, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister on Friday.

Guthrie said his council has been working together to approve more housing development in the city without the use of these powers. But he would not rule out the possibility of using it one day.

“Because the housing crisis is worse than it was a year ago, to have a tool sitting in a toolbox, you hope you don’t have to need it, I have no desire to use it, but if it is there, then I know it is there to be used,” Guthrie said.

A number of mayors of other cities also weighed in on whether they would use the strong mayor powers to advance their agenda. Guthrie said he will be keeping an eye out to see how his peers in the Big City Mayors caucus will handle these newly anointed powers.

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“It is really in the context of each community,” Guthrie said. “Some mayors might say: ‘Yeah, I’m going to use it because… ‘”

Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said that his council has been working well together but that he would look at the specifics. Others, like London Mayor Josh Morgan, have expressed no desire to use it.

Guelph MPP and leader of the Ontario Green Party Mike Schreiner said in a statement on Friday: “Concentrating power in the mayor’s office and ushering in minority rule will not solve the housing crisis.”

— with files from the Canadian Press

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