What are the powers of a Vancouver mayor? What can a mayor do with just one vote on City Council?

Gregor Robertson(Updated) For decisions by Vancouver City Council, the Mayor of the city has limited power. It is an important post, certainly, but when it comes to voting, his or her vote is only one of eleven votes on City Council. The votes of at least five other members of Council are required to pass any motion or make any decision (assuming a full quorum of 11). Yes, the role is expected to show leadership and represent the city and City Hall. But otherwise, it is largely ceremonial and symbolic. (Comments welcome below or to citizenYVR@gmail.com.)

Media sometimes play along with the idea that the mayor has significantly more power than other members of Council.

Vancouver does not have a “strong mayor” system of government. It’s instead based on the “council-manager” community model. In contrast, a number of American cities are indeed based on the “strong mayor” form of government, so perhaps this idea of a Mayor wielding considerable power is transmitted via popular film and television.

  1. Added (blue): The mayor only has one vote, but the position is important for a number of reasons.1. In elections, people who vote slates often will vote the slate of the mayor they chose.
    2. If an incumbent mayor is reelected, it is almost impossible to get rid of his/her party since they have built their brand around him/her.
    3. The mayor’s office holds additional power because the mayor has staff. For example, under Gregor Robertson, the Chief of Staff (Mike Magee), goes with the mayor’s office. He comes with a lot of baggage — paid as a public servant but not serving the public first and foremost.
    4. The mayor sets the council agendas.
    5. It is very difficult to open up City Hall, do the required audits, and change things if an incumbent remains as mayor. To really create institutional and cultural change at City Hall, a new mayor is required. A party that has had control of City Hall for one, two, or more terms, becomes highly entrenched, making it a huge challenge to create a change in institutional culture.

Meanwhile, during the civic term (now four years) City Councillors could override almost every decision by the Mayor. If all 10 Councillors, or even if 6 Councillors disagree with the Mayor, then the Councillors will have their way. A Council majority can accept or reject rezoning applications, give staff specific instructions, bring forward motions and pass these motions, appoint advisory board members, pass budgets, and so on.

The Vancouver Charter reserves a few tasks for the Mayor. Under section 207 of the Charter, the Responsibilities of Mayor include the power to suspend City employees until City Council either dismisses or reinstates the employee. The Mayor may proclaim a civic holiday, after Council approves a related resolution. Debentures issued by the City carry a facsimile signature of the Mayor.

The Procedure Bylaw governs all meetings of City Council. Of particular interest is Section 15.5, which requires all bylaws, after enactment, to be signed by the Mayor and City Clerk. The Mayor can also call Special Meetings (Section 2.4), but a majority of Council members are also granted this power. The Mayor chairs regular Council Meetings, but a two-thirds vote of Council is required to override the rulings of the Chair (Section 18.14). Other members of Council can chair committee meetings and public hearings. The Procedure Bylaw can always be amended by a majority vote of Council.

There are a few roles reserved for the Mayor, such as participation on TransLink’s Mayor’s Council. The Mayor also has profile in meetings with officials from other cities, with the provincial government, and with the federal government. Note, however, that this is just profile. Vancouver City Council must later ratify agreements made with other parties.

The Globe and Mail featured an article in 2011 with the byline: Toronto needs strong mayor with veto power, Doug Ford says. In retrospect, was it in fact best that Toronto Council did NOT give more power to Rob Ford? Note also that Toronto has a ward system and bans municipal political parties (as is the case for Ottawa, and, in fact, for all other municipalities in Ontario). Hence, in that province, all members of city councils must work collaboratively for common goals. There are no guaranteed block votes to pass motions and bylaws along partisan lines, as we witness in nearly every decision in Vancouver City Council. There might be something to be said for systems where a single party (or person) cannot achieve excessive or absolute control over the governance of an entire city.
City Council panorama

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