THE DEMOCRATIC REPORTER
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National Post - Jul. 9, 2010 - By Megan O'Toole - firstname.lastname@example.org
Mississauga conflict focus must be broad: commissioner
Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion speaks at a press conference during the
Mayor Hazel McCallion’s lawyers have lost their bid to limit the scope of Mississauga’s judicial inquiry into city business dealings.
Commissioner Douglas Cunningham on Thursday ruled the term “conflict of interest” should be defined broadly, rather than constrained to the narrow terms of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, as the Mayor’s legal team had requested.
“Optics are important,” the commissioner said, noting members of council “are not to use their office to promote private interests, whether their own or those of relatives and friends.
“They must be unbiased in the exercise of their duties. That is not only the common law, but the common sense standard by which the conduct of municipal representatives ought to be judged,” Commissioner Cunningham ruled.
His decision came as the inquiry began hearing testimony on a $14.4-million land deal that sparked conflict-of-interest allegations against the Mayor. Both Ms. McCallion and her son, who was also involved in the deal, are expected to testify later in the process.
Ms. McCallion’s lawyer, Elizabeth McIntyre, asked the commissioner earlier in the week to judge the Mayor’s conduct solely by the Act. As the only legal standard in place at the time, it applies narrowly to alleged conflicts in relation to council votes.
City lawyer Clifford Lax, however, urged the commissioner “to not fall into the trap of defining this inquiry effectively out of existence.”
In his ruling, Commissioner Cunningham agreed all forms of misconduct should be on the table, calling the inquiry’s terms of reference “deliberately broad.” Prior to calling the inquiry, council received two external legal opinions finding the Mayor had not contravened the act, he noted.
“Ms. McIntyre suggests that all this inquiry is about is to provide a third opinion. I disagree,” the commissioner said. “Not only would this be a terribly expensive way of obtaining yet another opinion, it is not what council requires of me in carrying out the mandate I have been given.”
The inquiry also heard on Thursday from the first two witnesses to the land deal: Ed Sajecki, the city’s commissioner of planning and building, and Bram Costin, a lawyer representing Square One.
The deal involved a 3.5-hectare parcel of land in the city centre, which Ms. McCallion’s son, Peter, and a company called World Class Developments were negotiating to purchase from OMERS (Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System) and Square One to build a hotel and conference centre. (The deal ultimately fell through, and the city purchased the land for a Sheridan College campus last year.)
Documents produced on Thursday linked the Mayor to a private meeting at OMERS while negotiations between the pension giant and her son were ongoing.
Councillors have raised concerns about a number of private meetings Ms. McCallion attended during this period, alleging a conflict of interest.
The inquiry is on hiatus until July 26.
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