THE DEMOCRATIC REPORTER
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National Post - May. 7, 2010 - By Megan O'Toole - email@example.com
Inquiry won't hurt election, McCallion says
Just 'smoke and dust,' but wants to delay testimony
Mayor Hazel McCallion is disputing her lawyer's contention that "smoke and dust" stirred up by Mississauga's judicial inquiry may harm her re-election campaign -- but she remains opposed to testifying during that period because she wants to be "available to the taxpayers."
Elizabeth McIntyre, the Mayor's lawyer, has requested that if the inquiry is not completed by Sept. 10, the closing date for nominations, it be put over for six weeks to avoid overlapping with Ms. McCallion's election campaign. The vote happens on Oct. 25.
Some councillors question whether it is an attempt to mitigate fallout from damaging inquiry revelations.
"Hazel McCallion has asked Mississauga taxpayers to spend $100,000 on lawyers to represent her at the inquiry, and now it sounds like her lawyers are worried she will lose votes when they hear the evidence of witnesses," Councillor Eve Adams said yesterday, noting residents should be alarmed that tax-funded lawyers are becoming tangled in political campaigning.
Councillor Sue McFadden said the proposal "saddens" her both as a member of council and a lifelong Mississauga resident.
"It is unfortunate to think that there will be damaging revelations but given the 'concern' all of a sudden, I have to think something is going to be revealed that will give the residents of Mississauga something to seriously think about," Ms. McFadden said.
At an inquiry hearing last week, Ms. McIntyre noted Ms. McCallion would likely be one of the last witnesses to testify and thus could be embroiled in cross-examination as the election campaign rolls out.
"In the context of the ... smoke and dust that's thrown up by the inquiry, and the media's focus on it, we submit that it would be fundamentally unfair to conduct the inquiry during that relatively brief six-week campaign period," Ms. McIntyre said.
But Ms. McCallion told the National Post, "I don't know what she meant by that," adding she personally has no concerns about the content of the inquiry or the revelations that will emerge, but rather wants to ensure she is available to answer voters' concerns.
"During the campaign period, once nominations close, then I accept the responsibility of answering to the taxpayers on any questions they raise, any meetings they organize that they want me in attendance," the Mayor said.
Councillor Pat Saito, one of the Mayor's strongest allies, called the inquiry a "huge waste of tax dollars" that is "being used against
the Mayor in an election year -- you might say the timing was planned -- but even if she were to testify during the campaign period, I doubt it would hurt her campaign at all."
That is another point observers have fixed on, as Ms. McCallion has historically won elections without the need to hoist a campaign sign or collect a dollar in donations. She has yet to register for re-election this year, but has stated on numerous occasions that she will run again, barring a health catastrophe.
Tom Urbaniak, a Cape Breton academic who has written extensively on Ms. McCallion's tenure, noted the last time the Mayor mounted any kind of election campaign was two decades ago, "and it was then merely a token effort." She has not faced a serious opponent in many years, garnering easy and convincing wins -- more than 90% of the vote in 2006.
With this as the backdrop, Mr. Urbaniak says he was "intrigued and puzzled" at the stated reasons for a campaign-period pause in the inquiry.
"Mayor McCallion has been fond of boasting that the campaign period means nothing constantly reminds people that she begins campaigning the day after the last election."
The inquiry, which has already met with a number of delays, is scheduled to hear evidence between May 25 and Aug. 19. Further delays are likely as the complex process unfolds, Mr. Urbaniak suggested.
Inquiry commissioner Douglas Cunningham says he has taken Ms. McIntyre's concerns "under advisement" and remains committed to moving the process forward expeditiously.
Councillors voted last fall to launch a judicial inquiry into whether Mayor Hazel McCallion violated conflict-of-interest rules in relation to a failed multimillion-dollar land deal brokered by her son, Peter. The scope was later expanded to address whether any city representatives had a conflict, such as a personal economic interest, in a couple of allegedly suspect city business deals. One was a failed purchase and sale agreement involving pension giant OMERS, Peter Mc-Callion and a company called World Class Developments. The Mayor allegedly participated in private meetings on the $14-million land deal while the matter was before council. Councillors want to know the details of an undisclosed settlement paid by OMERS to World Class after the deal fell through and the city stepped in to buy the same parcel of land. Council is also asking the commission to examine a decade-old agreement that gave Borealis, a subsidiary of OMERS, a 10% stake in Enersource, the city-owned utility, along with veto power. The Mayor says she was not made aware of that change when she signed the deal.
Councillors who voted against the inquiry have painted it as an attack on the city's long-serving Mayor, and remain vocal critics of the process. The cost has been estimated at well above $2-million.
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