By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Chatham-Kent has been added to the list of Ontario municipalities whose top elected official is eligible for so-called “strong mayor” powers.
The announcement, made recently by Premier Doug Ford at the annual Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in London, brings Mayor Darrin Canniff into the fold, joining dozens of other leaders across the province.
The Strong Mayors initiative deals primarily with new housing; and if municipalities commit in writing to a designated number of housing starts by Oct. 15 of this year, Strong Mayor powers will kick in Oct. 31.
Based on a formula set out by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Chatham-Kent’s target is to create 1,100 new homes by 2031.
It means the municipality would get a slice of the $1.2 billion in incentives.
According to the ministry report, performance will be evaluated on the percentage of housing starts compared to the goal. Municipalities that exceed their targets will be eligible for additional funding while those that don’t achieve at least 80 per cent of their target will receive no funding at all.
The issue will be coming forward to council for discussion on Sept. 11, according to Mayor Canniff.
Bringing new funding into Chatham-Kent is a plus, Canniff told The Voice, adding he thinks building 1,100 new homes is do-able.
“Based on our growth, 1,100 new starts are very achievable,” Canniff said. “If we don’t do this, we won’t be eligible for any of the money.”
As for worries that a mayor with strong powers could get carried away and make rogue decisions, Canniff doesn’t see that as a problem locally as a two-thirds council vote can veto any decision.
“I see that as a non-issue,” the mayor explained. “I believe in democracy and that we can all work together. I think our council does a pretty good job of making decisions.”
However, critics of the strong mayor powers have been vocal in their opposition of the legislation, calling it “undemocratic.” It gives mayors the power to hire the municipality’s chief administrative officer, hire and fire some staff department heads, propose housing-related bylaws, override council-approved bylaws with the support of one third of council, and prepare the city’s budget.
The powers could also include reorganizing departments, creating council committees, and appointing chairpersons and vice-chairpersons of council committees.
However, Canniff doesn’t see this being a problem in Chatham-Kent.
“Chatham-Kent is amazing and we’re growing,” Canniff added, noting more people are choosing to locate here, which will make the goal of 1,100 housing starts within reach.
Ford has set a minimum target of 1.5 million new homes to be built by 2031, saying he wants to help young people and newcomers who are “priced out of the dream,” adding the status quo is unacceptable.
The Strong Mayor Powers, which will allow municipalities to circumvent some of the red tape, will spur growth, the premier has stated.
“These are incredible sums of money that will reward municipalities for building homes and help pay for important infrastructure and community building projects,” Ford has said in previously published reports.
The exact formula as to how the funding will be allotted has not yet been made public by the province.
To date, it is unclear how much of the Strong Mayor incentive money will be funnelled towards building supportive or geared-to-income housing, which officials say is the number one concern in the province, to combat the lack of affordable housing.