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National Post - Jul. 8, 2010 - By Megan O'Toole -

McCallion inquiry out of control: councillors

Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion talks to media.
Brett Gundlock/National Post

Mississauga councillors are accusing Mayor Hazel McCallion's lawyers of attempting to stall the city's inquiry, and yesterday voted 6-4 to authorize up to $5,000 in funding for members of council requiring legal advice related to the process.

The move incensed the Mayor's staunchest allies, who voted against the funding--the latest sign, they say, that the inquiry has spiralled out of control.

"This just blows my mind," said outgoing Councillor Maja Prentice, decrying the lack of specificity over what the funds could be used for.

Councillor Carolyn Parrish moved the motion a day after Ms. McCallion's legal team attempted to narrow the scope of the inquiry into a $14.4-million land deal that sparked conflict-of-interest allegations against the Mayor.  "We would not have considered this had the Mayor not moved the motion to try to terminate the inquiry on a technicality," Ms. Parrish said.

Commissioner Douglas Cunningham has reserved ruling on the issue raised by Ms. Mc-Callion's lawyers, which asks for a clear definition of "conflict of interest."  Her lawyers say Ms. McCallion's actions in respect to the land deal--of which the inquiry has yet to hear details -- should be judged solely by the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, while commission counsel is calling for a broader definition.

The inquiry has been treading an increasingly thorny path in recent days amid renewed council infighting, procedural delays and ballooning costs, with the overall price tag doubling to $5-million.  "This waste of money is just really getting to me," Councillor Pat Saito said.

The latest legal roadblock threatens to push the process beyond October's municipal election, said Tom Urbaniak, a Cape Breton academic who has written on Mississauga politics.  "If not resolved quickly, this has the potential to seriously hamper the inquiry," he said.  "Whatever [the commissioner] decides here will have significant implications for future judicial inquiries and for how conflict of interest and misconduct are understood in reference to municipal politicians."

To argue potential conflicts should be judged solely on the Act, Mr. Urbaniak asserted, "sets a very low bar," and in this case indicates the Mayor's lawyersmay sense trouble ahead.

Inbroad strokes, the Act s tipulates that councillors with a direct or indirect financial interest in a matter before council must disclose that interest and refrain from voting or attempting to influence votes on the matter.

"The ability of a strong municipal politician to influence events outside of formal meetings is actually much greater," Ms. Parrish said, citing "influence over senior staff, influence over unfolding events in off-site meetings, influence over colleagues through backroom conversations and memos."

Through a spokeswoman, Ms. McCallion declined to comment on the latest inquiry developments, but they appear to be on her mind.  At the outset of council yesterday, during the routine call for declarations of conflicts of interest, she asked the city solicitor to clarify:  "What is a person to declare?"  Ms. McCallion asked, receiving a boilerplate response.

Council has been divided on the judicial inquiry throughout, but after yesterday's vote, Councillors Saito and Prentice suggested the seven members supporting the inquiry are in the habit of secretly meeting prior to council.

"There was a whole bunch of whispering and consulting back and forth before council was called to order today and you just know, when that is going on, something's up," Ms. Prentice said.

The idea was rejected by the coincillors.  "We don't, quote, meet as a bloc," Councillor Carmen Corbasson said.  "No. 1, it's illegal."  On getting all seven together outside of council, Ms. Parrish added:  "What a hoot.  It would be like herding cats!"

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