Thunder Bay Mayor Ken Boshcoff has pledged to meet an ambitious provincial housing target, a move that will put him in line to receive enhanced “strong mayor” powers.
Boshcoff had indicated last week he would take the step, despite a decisive vote opposing the plan by city council.
The city confirmed Boshcoff had sent a letter to Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing on Sept. 21, committing to meet the provincial target of 2,200 homes by 2031.
Hitting that target would require the pace of housing builds to accelerate by over 60 per cent compared with the past five years, something Boshcoff has argued is doable based on an emerging regional mining boom, though not all are convinced.
Boshcoff’s decision to make the housing pledge will put him in line to receive “strong mayor” powers the province began introducing last year, and has now extended to around 50 municipalities.
The powers, set to go into effect for Boshcoff on Oct. 31, will grant him sweeping authority over city committees and administration, able to hire and fire top staffers and reorganize city departments, and a greater ability to shape the city budget.
In matters related to housing, he would be able to pass or veto bylaws with the support of just one third of council.
In some cases, council can override the mayor’s use of the powers with a two-thirds majority vote, while in others — like the hiring and firing of city staff — it will have no ability to do so.
The province has said the new powers are intended to speed housing development, though many Ontario mayors have pushed back, calling them unnecessary, and in some cases pledging not to use them.
The mayor has the ability to delegate some of the powers to administration or to council, if he chooses.
Whoever is elected mayor in the next municipal election is expected to inherit the strong mayor designation, city staff indicated at a Sept. 18 council meeting.
On Monday, councillors raised serious objections, saying the change places too much power in the hands of one person.
Boshcoff’s motion asking council to endorse his plan to seek the powers was defeated 9-4, a result that did not deter the mayor from pressing forward, though he initially vowed to do so on Tuesday.
In a release on Thursday, city administration indicated top staffers would meet with the mayor beginning next week “to discuss potential impacts to operations and staff” from the change, as well as the possibility of delegating some powers.
Both Boshcoff and city administration have speculated hiring additional staff to support the office of the mayor may be necessary to implement the strong mayor powers.