Ontario Government Extends “Strong Mayor” Powers and Launches $1.2 Billion Fund

The Ontario government plans to extend “strong mayor” powers to nearly two dozen smaller cities and introduce a $1.2 billion fund to reward municipalities that meet provincial home-building targets. Premier Doug Ford announced these measures at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference, with the aim of addressing the housing shortage, affordability crisis, and rapid population growth driven by immigration.

Ford emphasized that the struggle for affordable housing is impacting young people and newcomers, preventing them from achieving home ownership. He warned that failing to act would worsen the affordability crisis and threaten Canadians’ support for immigration, as skilled newcomers are crucial for filling labor gaps and promoting economic success.

The Progressive Conservatives had previously set housing targets for 29 of the province’s largest municipalities. Now, 21 additional municipalities with projected populations exceeding 50,000 by 2031, including Aurora, Sarnia, Thunder Bay, and Belleville, have been assigned targets. These municipalities will receive strong mayor powers if their heads of council commit in writing to the targets before October 15.

The strong mayor powers grant mayors the authority to propose housing-related bylaws, override council approval of certain bylaws, and prepare their city’s budget. These powers were first given to Toronto and Ottawa in 2022, and subsequently extended to 26 other municipalities. With the recent announcement, a total of 49 Ontario municipalities will have access to strong mayor powers, excluding Newmarket, which hasn’t committed to achieving its housing target.

To encourage municipalities to meet their housing targets, the government introduced the “building faster fund,” a three-year, $1.2 billion program. Municipalities that demonstrate progress towards their targets can access the funds, which will support infrastructure and community building projects. The exact parameters for the fund’s use are still being determined, but it is intended to finance infrastructure that serves the needs of new residents, such as roads, water, and sewer lines.

Ford emphasized that extending strong mayor powers to more cities will ensure that municipalities can fulfill their housing commitments as part of the province’s goal to build 1.5 million homes by 2031. The premier also highlighted the success of Vaughan and Pickering in exceeding their housing targets, which resulted in significant funding for these cities.

Furthermore, the government plans to reserve 10% of the funds for small, rural, and northern communities that haven’t yet received housing targets. However, concerns have been raised by municipalities regarding a provincial law that reduces the fees developers pay, which are used to fund infrastructure. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has warned that these changes may result in a budget shortfall and could impact housing affordability.

While there is pushback from some critics, Ford believes that these measures will help alleviate the housing crisis and support the province’s future growth.