We had hoped this would not come to Chatham-Kent.
At the recent Association of Municipalities of Ontario gathering in London, Ontario Premier Doug Ford expanded the number of municipalities that will receive “strong mayor” powers.
And Chatham-Kent was included in the new list.
Ostensibly, the powers are to help municipalities build new housing – something that is sorely needed across the province, including here in Chatham-Kent. If C-K sees 1,100 new homes built by 2031, it can tap into a $1.2 billion fund set up by the province to promote home building.
That sounds great, and the funding will be doled out on a performance evaluation process.
However, mayors also have increased powers that could conceivably allow the top elected official in a municipality to create a fiefdom.
Critics of the strong mayor powers call it “undemocratic.” It gives mayors the power to hire the municipality’s chief administrative officer, hire and fire department heads, and even override council-approved bylaws with the support of one third of council, and prepare the city’s budget.
Now, we aren’t suggesting that Darrin Canniff will let the added power go to his head, but 2031 is a long ways away, with two municipal elections between now and then.
Imagine, if you would, a situation where, say, a very selfish individual is elected mayor. He or she could handpick the executive management team and surround themselves with “yes” people.
Canniff said two-thirds of council could veto rogue decisions, but when that comes into play with the strong mayors powers is a bit hazy.
We have seen at least one situation where a developer who was at odds with the town in which he operated, managed to get elected mayor. His presence led to a house cleaning of sorts of town staff as they sought jobs in other municipalities, thus weakening the town. Some very veteran, capable personnel left rather than put up with what they claimed was harassment by their new mayor.
After one term, the new mayor was gone.
This did happen, and can again. Remember, voter turnout is typically terrible at the municipal level.