By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Whether he wanted them or not, the province has bestowed Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Canniff with strong mayor powers.
This, despite the fact the municipality officially communicated that the mayor didn’t want them.
Strong mayor powers were made available by the province in a bid to accelerate housing development so Ontario can meet its target of constructing 1.5 million new homes by the end of 2031.
The powers, supposedly aimed at reducing red tape, allow designated mayors to circumvent normal municipal procedures that could include hiring and firing the chief administrative officer, restructuring committees, preparing municipal budgets, as well as vetoing and passing housing-related bylaws with only one third support of council.
The powers are tied to funding. If housing targets are met, the province will reward the municipality through the Building Faster Fund. The province determined Chatham-Kent needs to build 1,100 new homes by the deadline. The municipality is well on its way to meet the goal, having already exceeded this year’s target by 310 per cent, making it eligible to get $330,000 from the fund in a first instalment.
CAO Michael Duben brought the issue forward in non-agenda business at a recent council meeting, at which time several councillors expressed concern that strong mayor powers undermine the democratic process. At that meeting, council voted to refuse the powers, even though it meant Chatham-Kent might miss out on the funding.
But after some back-and-forth confusion between the municipality and the province, Chatham-Kent got word that Canniff now has the powers.
Duben said the mayor has directed administration to prepare a report which will set out how those powers can be delegated to either council or to the CAO.
“We don’t have this report just yet, it’s going to take a little bit of effort,” Duben told council, but noted other municipalities have dealt with the same issue, meaning C-K doesn’t have to start from scratch.