PICKERING: Comments and opinion of “Strong Mayors” by Steve Parish, former mayor of Ajax

These comments were copied from material submitted to “The Editor” of Durham News (Media) and are presented here for the benefit of residents interested in the topic. The comments were written by Steve Parish, former mayor of Ajax). We invited interested residents to submit their opinions and comments. [Submissions may be edited for length and/or possibility of offense.]

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Wednesday, July 5, 2023, 

To the editor:

As a former longtime mayor and as a citizen with a lifelong interest in municipal governance, I must express my concerns with the granting of strong-mayor powers by the province.

The stated purpose of granting these powers is to expedite the provision of housing and presumably to cut red tape. There is absolutely no evidence that this will happen. Supplying housing stock is much too multifaceted to be solved in such a simplistic manner. And the granting of these powers might create divisions on council that could slow progress on this file. Granting the mayor sole authority to appoint the municipality’s chief administrative officer is particularly troubling. Arguably, there is nothing more important to the success of a city than the professional competency of its chief administrative officer and management team. What is to stop a strong mayor from appointing a political crony who lacks those skills? The input of professional HR staff and a majority of council is essential in doing this right.

And what about that minor detail called democracy? Local government has always been where government is close and subject to popular will. Not anymore, when one-third of council can call the shots. And what if you have an autocratic or incompetent mayor? No check on that risk. Mayors are truly strong because they have good judgment, leadership skills and the ability to build and keep consensus and unity on council. This gets results on all fronts. And sadly, it cannot be created by legislation. It requires what all democratic institutions need — an engaged and informed electorate.

Finally, the provincial initiative of strong-mayor powers is just a meaningless publicity stunt. If the province was serious about affordable housing, it would give municipalities the real powers and fiscal resources necessary to make real progress on these matters. Alas, window dressing is easier and much cheaper.

Steve Parish
Former mayor of Ajax

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