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LETTER: Strong mayors don't need strong mayor powers

'It was like a shiver down my back and in one swoop'

PelhamToday received the following letter to the editor from reader Steven Soos:

It was like a shiver down my back and in one swoop; strong mayor powers are now a stark and deafening reality for three Niagara-area Councils (Welland, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls). At the heart of the matter is housing- which has been dangled like the carrot as the excuse for implementing these dangerous and unprecedented powers which override and silence the voices of the elected Council and leaves the Mayor with arbitrary authority to crush any (Councillor) initiative the Mayor deems "not a provincial priority." The vagueness of this should concern Ontario and Niagara residents. There was really no need for Mayor Campion to be granted strong mayor powers as Welland was among the municipalities to set their own housing target of 12,257 units by 2031, far outpacing the province's target of 4300 with 163% progress to meet the 10-year housing supply required for City of Welland. City of Welland currently sits at 513 new housing starts for this year (2023) alone. It was not strong mayor powers that achieved this success for housing in Welland- instead it was the work of Welland's elected Council who took the issue of housing seriously and listened to the voices of citizens, and worked together .

Some of these initiatives include, but are not limited to:

-Welland's Affordable Rental Housing Community Improvement Plan
-42 affordable housing units for 60 York street
-106 townhouses for Ontario road and King street area
-98 rental suites of new housing rental stock in Lancaster Park apartment development
-Welland Council unanimously voted to advocate to the provincial government for increased medium priced supply housing in Welland for young people entering the market and for seniors downsizing; thus also opening up more supply for families.
-Rezoning for property allowed for developments and re-development of brownfield lands through the City's brownfield community improvement plan.

And the list goes on....I note that all of these housing initiatives in Welland were achieved without the use of strong mayor powers and thorough the work of the ELECTED Council and staff. Strong mayor powers also disturb the power dynamic for the operations side of a municipality as the CAO now becomes an employee hired directly by the Mayor, and not Council- all other staff work report to the CAO which can easily become a free for all for nepotist appointments.

In closing, these heavy handed strong mayor powers are an afront to democracy, simply put. Strong mayor powers have swiftly interfered with the long standing practices, procedures and power structure of Welland Council and other Councils which have the powers currently in effect.

Strong Mayor powers fail to recognize and do not stand the test of the most basic democratic concepts such as majority rules , consent of the governed, voting rights and unwarranted government deprivation.

The only question left to ask is:

What will the next excuse to erode democracy at our elected Councils? As the old mantra goes- "with great power, comes great responsibility." Though these powers come down from the province- our Mayors have the freewill not to use the powers and stand together with our elected Council, the voices of the residents and the power of the people.

"Strong mayors do not need strong mayor powers."

Steven Soos