Toronto election 2022: Penalosa flip flops on strong-mayor veto

Toronto mayoral candidate Gil Penalosa is giving mixed signals about whether he would use the new powers of his office to veto local objections to housing construction if he’s elected next month.

At a meeting with the Star’s editorial board on Monday, Penalosa, who is considered Mayor John Tory’s highest-profile challenger in the Oct. 24 vote, said he would be open to using new “strong-mayor” powers to push his housing plan through council.

The comment indicated Penalosa would be willing to aggressively combat local opposition to new development, a phenomenon many believe is a driving force behind Toronto’s housing affordability crisis.

It was also a departure from previous statements Penalosa has made, in which he pledged not to exercise the expanded powers Premier Doug Ford’s government has granted the leaders of Toronto and Ottawa.

After the board meeting, Penalosa’s campaign sent a statement refuting the remarks he made hours earlier, and reiterating his commitment to not use the strong-mayor provisions.

During the meeting at the Star’s office at 1 Yonge Street, Penalosa touted the benefits of his housing plan, which would legalize rooming houses, allow greater density along transit corridors, and incentivize homeowners to subdivide their properties into up to six rental units, among other measures.

Parts of the platform would likely face fierce pushback from some Toronto homeowners, who in recent years have waged organized campaigns against densification in their neighbourhoods, often with the support of their local councillors.

Asked whether he would use the new strong-mayor powers, which include a veto over council decisions, to get his housing plan approved, Penalosa said if he wins the vote he will govern using “whatever rules of the game” are in place.

“So, am I going to govern with strong mayoral powers? Yes, if those are the rules of the game when I become mayor,” he said.

That was a stark contrast to Penalosa’s initial criticism of the province’s plan, which the Star first reported in July.

“I commit that as mayor I will use the power of ideas, rather than the power of a veto, to inspire Torontonians and councilors,” he said in a July 19 statement.

Monday evening, Penalosa’s campaign attempted to walk back his comments from earlier in the day, saying in a statement that the candidate had been responding to a “hypothetical situation” from a reporter that was “not realistic.”

“As I have from the beginning, I pledge not to use the mayoral veto,” the statement said.

The Ontario PC government passed the strong-mayor legislation Sept. 8, and the expanded powers will go into effect in the coming term of council.

The mayors of the province’s two largest cities will be able to veto council decisions they believe would undermine provincial policy goals. They will also be able to table the annual budget, and directly introduce policy recommendations to council.

Tory says he supports the new powers.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics for the Star. Reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr


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