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John Tory uses his ‘strong mayor’ powers to fill key role without council’s approval


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John Tory uses his ‘strong mayor’ powers to fill key role without council’s approval

In his first substantive use of the expanded powers granted his office by the province, John Tory has used his “strong-mayor” authority to appoint a new city manager.

The city announced Friday that Paul Johnson will be Toronto’s top bureaucrat, effective immediately.

Johnson had previously been deputy city manager for community and social services, and takes over from Tracey Cook, who was awarded the job on an interim basis after former city manager Chris Murray stepped down in August.

In a statement, Tory called Johnson “a leader with a proven track record of commitment to serving our communities, creating efficiencies and budgeting effectively, all while inspiring teams.

“I know he will make a great city manager for Toronto.”

The city manager is the most powerful official in the Toronto public service. The position is responsible for delivering programs and policies approved by the mayor and council, and overseeing a workforce of more than 40,000 employees.

Filling the role used to require the approval of council, but legislation the Ontario Progressive Conservative government passed in September gave the mayor the power to appoint senior civil servants. The bill also granted the mayor a veto over council decisions, and more control over the city budget.

A subsequent bill, introduced in November, would controversially grant the mayor the ability to pass some bylaws with the support of just one-third of council.

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Critics of the “strong-mayor” legislation have warned that giving the mayor the ability to unilaterally hire and fire city officials could further politicize the public service.

“I congratulate the new city manager on his appointment, and wish him the very best of success. My concern is with the fact that his important and powerful role no longer answers to city council,” said Coun. Josh Matlow (Ward 12, Toronto—St. Paul’s) in a Twitter post Friday.

He said the city manager “now is effectively an employee of the mayor, who can hire and fire him and other senior staff unilaterally, without the necessary checks and balances.”

According to the city press release, Johnson was chosen after an “extensive search” by a third-party hiring firm, and was unanimously endorsed by a panel consisting of Tory, Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie, Coun. Stephen Holyday and former councillor Mike Layton.

In his deputy city manager role, Johnson worked on housing issues like the Tenants First program, and creating the Seniors Housing Corporation. He also helped launch the Toronto Community Crisis Service pilots, and deliver the city’s successful bid to co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

Prior to coming to Toronto, he worked at the city of Hamilton for more than a decade.

“I want to thank Mayor John Tory and the hiring panel for the opportunity to take on this new challenge,” Johnson said in a statement.

“It is a privilege to be charged with leading the incredibly talented and hardworking Toronto public service to enhance the quality of life for Toronto’s residents, particularly in a post-pandemic era.”

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

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