Would a strong mayoral system break Hamilton’s stalemate or weaken voters?

ByShannon J. Cortes

Jul 31, 2022
Paul Johnson, LRT manager (far right), speaks to Hamilton councilors about the LRT project at a special LRT meeting on April 19.  Politicians have postponed voting on the bill until April 26.

The provincial Progressive Conservatives question that when it comes to playing with municipalities.

More than 22 years after Mike Harris’ government pushed Hamilton and its surrounding municipalities to merge, Premier Doug Ford is re-examining the power structure of perhaps all municipalities by introducing the so-called “mayor” system of governance. strong” in Toronto and Ottawa.

The details are sketchy – what a government proposal isn’t – but several elements stand out, including giving the mayor a veto over any council vote, while the council can in turn override the veto by a majority of both third. The mayor would also have the power to appoint department heads, assign council members to chair or serve on committees, appoint citizens to serve on advisory councils, oversee budgets, and provide an annual report to the advice. The strong mayor system could replace the responsibilities of the city manager, forcing the city administration to follow the political direction and execute the policy and reducing the power of the bureaucracy.

The “strong mayor” system is based on the American model where the mayor is essentially the CEO of a corporate body that operates in conjunction with, but is also independent of, the council. The position of mayor becomes one of dynamic leadership, rather than just being a cheerleader and salesman promoting a city’s image and interests.

Proponents say this will eliminate the deadlock of resolving issues or approving proposals. Councilors may be able to suggest items and programs, but it is up to the mayor to decide if and when a councilor’s idea is put into practice.

Under the strong mayor system, any mayoral election should attract a greater number of voters, giving the winner far more political clout than any councilor received. Strong mayors would also be more accountable to the electorate and should be more transparent. This would, in some ways, reduce the voice of constituencies with low voter turnout, while constituencies with high voter turnout could have decidedly over-representative mandates and political power.

However, under the current system, the mayor is one of the councilors elected by the community and any idea, campaign program or proposal that the mayor wants to present must be done in collaboration with the majority of the councillors. Some argue that the status quo is more democratic, with each councilor given equal powers, but not enough to hijack debate or the political agenda.

If the right person is elected as Hamilton’s strong mayor, they could potentially break the stalemate and indecision that has plagued city council over decisions about housing, transportation and central issues. -city to suburban and rural areas. However, it also means the mayor could blithely ignore the concerns of locals who decide to trade their votes for a richer vein elsewhere.

So the question becomes, how willing are you to trust those who would be mayors?