City approves provincial housing targets, additional powers for mayor

By Kirk Winter

A number of councillors have expressed concern about the potential for abuse of increased powers by mayors in the future.

In a unanimous vote, Kawartha Lakes council approved the building of an additional 6,500 housing units by 2031. This also includes a green light to a request by the province to give dozens of local mayors including Mayor Doug Elmslie “strong mayoral powers” to assist the Conservatives in meeting their target of building 1.5 million new homes in the next seven years.

The decision by council, which was taken after considerable debate and discussion by a number of councillors who fear the potential for abuse of these increased powers by mayors in the future, allows the city to access desperately needed provincial funding to assist in building infrastructure to support these new housing units.

Deputy Mayor Tracy Richardson made it clear in her preamble that “we have to endorse and follow through with the building of that 6,500 to be eligible for the provincial funding and we need that funding, so this is a step we need to take.”

Councillor Pat Warren, who seconded Richardson’s proposal added, “it is all about accessing the money. I am not too worried about the additional powers being granted to the mayor because you (Elmslie) are a fair mayor.”

The money that both councillors spoke about is a $1.2 billion pool of infrastructure funding that municipalities will only be able to access if they agree with the provincially imposed housing targets, and vote in favour of giving their mayor additional sweeping powers to remove “impediments” to development.

If a municipality says no to either the provincially mandated housing targets or rejects giving their mayor more power to push through development, that municipality is faced with providing all the infrastructure for the new homes that, as Mayor Doug Elmslie said, “are going to be built one way or another regardless of the decisions we make here.”

Elmslie spoke directly to the issues of both the provincially imposed housing targets and the additional powers to be granted to mayors like him, hoping that council would understand how he viewed the additional powers to build and develop that the province is giving him.
“Today we are approving housing targets,” Elmslie said. “What also comes with those housing targets is strong mayoral responsibilities. I call it responsibilities because it is incumbent on me as head of council to ensure that building goals are met.”

Elmslie told council that the collaborative and democratic manner in which council has been making decisions since the last election will not change, but that the provincially imposed housing targets and strong mayoral powers needed to be approved so Kawartha Lakes, “could tap into the $1.2 billion that will help us build the infrastructure we need.”

Elmslie added that he did “not envision a time I would use strong mayoral powers but it is there and it needs to be open and transparent. I want to make sure I have your support (on these issues) going forward.”

Councillor Dan Joyce spoke for many on council when he expressed concerns about the “next mayor” potentially abusing the strong powers granted by the province.

“I fully endorse strong mayoral powers for Mayor Elmslie,” Joyce said. “What I am really concerned about is succession and the future after Nov. 16, 2026. I don’t know who we will have as mayor. We need a strong democracy with guard rails. Guard rails are important. Is there an end date on these strong mayoral powers?”

Elmslie reminded Joyce that there are checks and balances included in the strong mayor powers that include council by a 2/3s majority overturning a mayoral veto.

“A future provincial government can take these powers away as quickly as they were given,” Elmslie said, “and they are also restricted to a limited number of areas like housing.”

Councillor Mike Perry shared a number of the same concerns expressed by Joyce and asked “for clarity” how the province is making the link between the housing targets and the strong mayoral powers. Perry asked if one was dependent upon the other.

Elmslie made it clear that they are linked, as the strong mayoral powers are focused “to support provincial legislation, particularly the Build More Homes Faster bill.”

“If there are impediments to this (bill) the mayor may have the power to override it,” Elmslie said.

CAO Ron Tayor added that in the mind of the province the linkage has been created “to reduce red tape and get things done more quickly.”

Taylor suggested that a clear provincial priority is reaching the goal of building 1.2 million more houses by 2031, and that the link between the provincially imposed targets, the funding model for critical infrastructure and the granting of strong mayoral powers is to ensure those goals are met.

Perry told the mayor he was “fearful municipalities were losing their independence and power to access the provincial (infrastructure) money.”

That comment was met by a solid round of applause from an unusually large and rambunctious group of observers in the visitors’ gallery.

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