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LETTER: Strong mayor powers threaten the essence of democracy

'The combination of Ford's Bill 3 and Bill 39 take 28 municipalities ... into unprecedented territory, as they dismantle democratic norms and traditions,' reader writes
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GuelphToday received the following letter from Susan Watson regarding strong mayor powers

Dear Editor:

Happy Canada Day Guelphites!

We sing that we live in a "true north strong and free," but what does that really mean?  A key aspect of political freedom is captured in Article 21 (3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Canada is a signatory: "The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government...."

I'm trying to understand if it was intentional or accidental on Doug Ford's part, that strong mayor powers would come into force in 26 additional Ontario municipalities as of July 1st, Canada Day.

The combination of Ford's Bill 3 and Bill 39 take 28 municipalities, including Guelph, into unprecedented territory, as they dismantle democratic norms and traditions, including the bedrock of our democracy - majority rule. These Ontario municipalities appear to be the only jurisdictions among Western democracies where a 1/3 vote will carry the day.

Part of what is so shocking about the imposition of strong mayor powers is that Doug Ford has zero mandate for these changes from the people of Ontario. A key principle of representative democracy is the informed consent of the electorate. Strong mayor powers were never mentioned or debated once during the 2022 provincial election. No consultation took place, either with citizens or with the municipalities affected. Ford's government has provided no evidence as to how strong mayor powers will have any impact whatsoever on the housing crisis. There has been no study, analysis or debate.

This is the kind of conduct we expect from an elected dictatorship, not representative democracy.

Strong mayor powers were an issue at play in last October's municipal election. Cam Guthrie campaigned against using them. He was part of a unanimous September, 2022, vote at council against bringing strong mayor powers to Guelph. Fast forward nine months, and Guthrie is clearly complicit in Ford's plans. He was one of only three people on stage with Minister Clark when the announcement was made, as well as being a poster boy with a feature quote in the province's press release. Clearly he would have collaborated with Ford and Clark to decide on the quotes to be featured: "...citizens expect results - and tools such as this can help us achieve them."

Yes, citizens expect results, but more than results, we expect to live in a democracy. Political Science professors Zach Taylor and Martin Horak call strong mayor powers "a gross violation of democratic norms and traditions."

Guthrie has made much of delegating some powers back to the whole of city council, but that's not good enough. His Cam-dad Twitter advice to 'stop worrying about legislation we have no control over' is disingenuous. Either Cam has not yet read Bill 39, or he is not disclosing to citizens that minority rule is also something he has control over. Bringing forward bylaws to be passed by a 1/3 vote is completely at the discretion of Ford's puppet mayors. We need a commitment from Guthrie that he will NEVER exercise this power and that likewise, Councillors would unite in unanimously voting against such a bylaw on principle.

Canadians before us have literally laid down their lives to protect the political freedoms we enjoy. It's time for us to take up the peaceful weapons at our disposal to defend those freedoms now - our laptops, phones and social media accounts. Politicians at all levels of government, municipal, provincial and federal need to hear from you now.

"Oh Canada, we stand on guard for thee".

Susan Watson