Hobbled Cities

Some of Canada's big city mayors think they're not big enough. They want more power to fix their city's problems. Skeptics think a powerful mayor may be a big problem in itself.



Three of The Current

Hobbled Cities

When our guest host, Jim Brown arrived in Toronto from Calgary over the weekend, he found the city embroiled in a nasty fight. On one level, it's about public transit. The province of Ontario has offered up a pot of money and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford wants to use it for a new subway line.

We aired a clip from Mayor Ford, he is referring to a group of city councilors led by Karen Stinz, who want to use the money for three above-ground, light-rail transit lines. And last week, they won the day, defeating the Mayor's subway proposal in a vote at council.

And here's where things get interesting. Mayor Ford says the provincial government -- which is, after all, picking up the tab for whatever does get built -- should listen to him not City Council.

But Ontario's Transportation Minister, Bob Chiarelli had another take. And Minister Chiarelli also took a moment to remind the Mayor and council that the province approved the money nearly three years ago and that every day they spend fighting about what to do with it means another day without any new public transit of any kind.

The specifics of this fight are unique to Toronto. But the dynamics play out routinely in cities across the country. Mayors frequently complain of being little more than one vote on council. They say they don't have the power they need to deliver on what they were elected to do. And James Milway, the head of the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity, says they have a point.

Naheed Nenshi is the Mayor of Calgary and he has been giving a lot of thought to this subject. In fact, one of his top priorities for this year is getting the City of Calgary more control over its future. Naheed Nenshi was in Calgary. Adrian Kwiatkowski is the President of the Strong Mayor Council Institute. He was in San Diego. And Royson James is a long-time municipal affairs columnist with the Toronto Star. He was in Toronto.

This half-hour was produced by The Current's Gord Westmacott.

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