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National Post - Jan. 22, 2010 - By Megan O'Toole - firstname.lastname@example.org
Echoes of 1975 inquiry in Mississauga
A mayor and son caught up in allegations of conflict. A costly judicial inquiry with a scope so broad it was to examine a myriad of business dealings in the city of Mississauga. A bitterly divided council and accusations of a witch hunt.
Though apt, this is not the description of the past few months in Canada's sixth-largest city. It is a story that played out three-and-a-half decades earlier in a much smaller Mississauga, and instead of being the target of scrutiny, Hazel Mc-Callion was among those pushing for answers.
All members of Mississauga council were reminded of the 1975 saga this week after receiving an inch-thick stack of documents from the city's legal department -- answers to questions posed by Carolyn Parrish, the Ward 6 councillor who has been a driving force behind today's judicial inquiry, which begins hearings in April.
"The parallels are outstanding," Ms. Parrish said. "In fact, they're right out of the Twilight Zone."
She believes council could learn something by reviewing the poor handling of the 1975 inquiry, which died before it could lead to any revelations. Mayor McCallion's supporters, however, say the 35-year-old documents -- copies of which were obtained by the National Post -- are irrelevant, and they have accused Ms. Parrish of wasting taxpayer dollars to needlessly comb the archives.
"What happened in 1975 is history and we have to deal with today's issues," Councillor Pat Saito said, noting there is little value in "digging for something that might cloud the present issues."
In 1975, the inquiry was spurred by allegations that James Murray, the son of former mayor Charles Murray, demanded a $2,000 bribe from a developer to ensure a piece of land for a hotel development was rezoned. With the support of then-councillor Ms. McCallion, new mayor Martin Dobkin pushed for a judicial inquiry that would quickly balloon into a probe of various entities doing business in Mississauga.
Accusations flew about a politically motivated "witch hunt," but the lack of focus is what ultimately pushed the inquiry off the rails, according to Ray Stortini, the overseeing judge.
"It painted the whole administration of the municipality," the now-retired Mr. Stortini said from his home in Sault Ste. Marie yesterday, noting the divisional court ultimately determined the inquiry terms to be "too broad."
By the time it was cancelled, the inquiry had already cost $300,000, or about $3.6-million in today's dollars, for "zero results," Ms. Parrish noted. The affair spurred a rash of lawsuits by the Murrays -- including against Ms. McCallion-- which stirred bad blood but went nowhere.
Interestingly, James Murray was among dozens of deputants at a council meeting last fall calling for the current inquiry to be cancelled.
This inquiry, which has been the source of much contention among Mississaugans for the past several months, has many of the same elements: it began as a probe of a land deal involving Mayor Hazel McCallion's son, Peter McCallion, the city and pension giant OMERS. Much as in 1975, the inquiry has expanded to include a host of city business dealings, including a probe of whether "any existing or former elected or administrative representatives" of the city had economic interests in such matters.
Today's inquiry was pushed forward by Ms. Parrish, who many view as a political rival to Ms. McCallion-- similar to the Murray/Dobkin dynamic -- and once again, the process has spurred the wrath of some of the mayor's close allies and public supporters, who dismiss it as a "witch hunt."
Ms. McCallion could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Despite the similarities, Ms. Parrish says there are already key differences in how this inquiry, budgeted for at least $2.5-million, is being managed.
Council reviewed a report this week of external expenses related to the inquiry, which so far total about $230,000. That's 40% below the same setup costs (converted into today's dollars) from 1975, Ms. Parrish said, noting the original 1975 budget suffered from a "lack of control" and was ultimately exceeded by six times.
She wants councillors, particularly the four who oppose the pending inquiry, to review the material and "come to realize and accept [that] innuendo and nagging accusations do more damage when left to fester."
But that may never happen. Katie Mahoney, one of the four, says she will not peruse the documents further, noting they are "35 years old for crying out loud... I haven't got the time to delve into all that."
In the meantime, the sequel to the 1975 story continues to unfold.
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