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National Post - Apr. 29, 2010 - By Megan O'Toole -

Stop digging up past 'dirt,' Parrish told

'I'm Tired Of It'; Mississauga councillors upset by criticisms

Mississauga councillors, most but not all of them close allies of Mayor Hazel McCallion, roundly attacked Carolyn Parrish yesterday for "digging up dirt from the past" in an attempt to discredit her colleagues.

Ms. Parrish rankled councillors this week with remarks to the National Post that the city's Mayor and council spent like "drunken sailors" for years before she won a seat in 2006, prompting a debate in council chambers yesterday.  Ms. Parrish had said council's use of cash reserves to keep taxes low was short-sighted, and means the city is now facing an infrastructure-funding shortfall.

One after another, councillors excoriated Ms. Parrish; Nando Iannicca decried her criticisms as "dreadful."

"They completely misunderstand the history of our city [and] municipal finances, and what you're left with is revisionism and ignorance," he said.

Mr. Iannicca lauded council's past fiscal decisions for contributing to the legacy of a debt-free city despite federal and provincial downloading; Ms. Parrish was "complicit" in whatever actions the city had to take, he suggested, by virtue of her service as a federal MP during that period.

Councillor Pat Saito, who initiated the debate, called Ms. Parrish's characterization of council a "great insult," while Councillor Maja Prentice went further, blasting Ms. Parrish for steering council in the wrong direction since her election.

"Digging up dirt from the past is not a way to operate," Ms. Prentice said.  "This council has never operated this way until the last three years.... Quite frankly I'm tired of it, and it's inappropriate, and I think it will come back to haunt you."

"I'm tired of it.  The public is tired of it," Councillor Pat Mullin later added.

Ms. McCallion, who has regularly found herself under attack from Ms. Parrish, said citizens have become "fed up" with the negative press about Mississauga, when "outside we are recognized as a leading city."

Ms. Parrish said she broached the issue in the hopes of sparking discussion about how to handle the city's next budget.

A chart she distributed in council yesterday -- culled from city data that has been presented in past budget sessions -- shows between 2000 and 2005, more than $115-million was transferred from a reserve fund into the city's operating budget to offset, or completely wipe out, tax increases, even as the cost of living rose.  Had this money been saved and allowed to accumulate compound interest, the city would be better positioned to address future infrastructure needs, Ms. Parrish said.

As it stands, remaining reserve funds are on track to run out within a couple of years.

"I don't like rehashing history, but the point of all this discussion is for the future," Ms. Parrish said.  "It's for the next budget."

She wants the city to build up infrastructure reserves by contributing a set percentage of funding annually, saying yesterday's debate "teed up the ball" for serious public consultations on the matter.

"[During] 30 years of massive growth and money rolling in, we should have been putting money away for a rainy day....  The party is over," Ms. Parrish said.

Councillors defended their decision to use reserve funds -- which came primarily from interest on the principal -- to offset taxes, noting Mississauga has earned a top fiscal rating and attracted strong businesses over the years.

While Ms. McCallion acknowledged council has known for years the city would ultimately end up facing debt, "haven't we done a good job of keeping it off for all of these years?"

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