Q: What does the Deputy Mayor do? —Mary, Peterborough
Goyette: While people generally understand the role of the Mayor— although some still assign far more authority to the position than actually exists—there is very little understanding of the role of a Deputy Mayor.
The origin of the position stems from a concern that the absence of the Mayor might leave a municipality without corporate leadership. As a result, the Ontario Municipal Act permits the City to appoint a member of Council to act in the place of the Mayor if he or she is absent or refuses to act, or if the office becomes vacant. The Deputy Mayor role has been created for that purpose and, while acting as the Mayor, the Deputy has all the powers and duties of the Mayor.
Peterborough has two Deputy Mayors, Councillor Henry Clarke—the First Deputy Mayor, and Councillor Dan McWilliams—the Second Deputy Mayor. They were recommended by Mayor Bennett and approved by City Council. In the event that the Mayor is absent for more than a day or two, Councillor Clarke assumes the powers and duties of the Mayor. In his absence, the job falls to Councillor McWilliams. Like all other Councillor appointees, both Deputy Mayors were reviewed and reappointed after the first year of the term.
The American experience is very different from our own. In some cities, the Mayor and Deputy or Vice Mayor will run for office together as a ticket, much like American Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates. In the case of New York City, the position of Deputy Mayor was created by Fiorello La Guardia to handle ceremonial events only. Today, New York has a First Deputy Mayor who serves as a general deputy to the Mayor, as well as seven appointed—not elected—Deputy Mayors, each of whom has a specific portfolio, reports directly to the Mayor, and functions much like the CEO of a corporation.
While the Peterborough position has no specific day to day function, it does carry with it a certain prestige. The Deputies can be asked to fill in for the Mayor at speaking or ceremonial events that have City-wide significance. They may also serve as confidants or even political lieutenants. Some observers see these roles as conferring an unfair advantage that gives Deputy Mayors an electoral leg up at election time, and especially if they decide to make a run for the Mayoralty. It is for this reason that the City of Vancouver, for example, has Councillors serve as Deputy Mayor on a monthly, rotating basis. Calgary adopts a year-long roster of Deputy Mayors. In the Halifax Regional Municipality, the Deputy Mayor serves for a one-year term and is elected by his or her peers.
Some have compared the Deputy Mayor role to that of a Senate seat, conferring more than it demands. Even so, it looks good on the resume.
David Goyette is the Executive Assistant to Peterborough Mayor Daryl Bennett. Email your burning questions for David about City Hall to firstname.lastname@example.org.