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National Post - Oct. 3, 2009 - By Megan O'Toole, email@example.com
Inquiry seen as possible Parrish power gambit
Carolyn Parrish appears to be making a dangerous gamble. The outspoken Mississauga councillor, touted by some as the first viable challenger to Hazel McCallion in decades, has riled the iconic Mayor's staunchest supporters in her quest to get to the bottom of a troubling allegation.
The majority of council voted with Ms. Parrish this week to launch a judicial inquiry into whether the Mayor broke conflict-of-interest rules in relation to a land deal that involved her son's company. But others, such as Councillor Maja Prentice, say Ms. Parrish is simply attempting to "drive the Mayor out of office."
The city of Mississauga, which has grown under Ms. McCallion's tenure into one of Canada's most populous municipalities, worships its Mayor, who has ruled unflinchingly for 31 years.
The political fallout of challenging the legendary Mayor could be extreme, but Ms. Parrish says it was her "reluctant duty" to push for the inquiry after discovering discrepancies in the official record of a council meeting in which Ms. McCallion's son's land deal was discussed. Minutes of that meeting showed Ms. McCallion had declared a conflict of interest in the matter, but further analysis of videotaped evidence indicated otherwise.
The city clerk's office is probing the apparent error, while officials work on composing terms of reference for the pending judicial inquiry, which will examine whether Ms. McCallion broke conflict-of-interest rules, as lawyers hired by the city suggest she did.
Meanwhile, Ms. Parrish-- who this week lashed out at the "blind loyalty" of Ms. McCallion's council supporters -- refuses to link the process to any mayoral ambitions of her own.
"The Mayor is going through a pretty hard time," she said yesterday via e-mail. "Discussing me or my political style is not relevant to the issues we're concerned with right now.... We're involved in a very serious pursuit which should not be clouded by 'politics.' "
Instead, Ms. Parrish said she had the "greatest respect" for Ms. McCallion, a woman who she has often referred to in the past as unbeatable. Depending on the outcome of the pending inquiry, however, Ms. McCallion could ultimately be forced out of office, opening the door to a new slate of contenders.
Although such an outcome is highly unlikely, some of Ms. McCallion's council supporters believe that's what Ms. Parrish is hoping for.
"Carolyn is a bright woman and works hard," Ms. Prentice said. "[But] she wants control of issues and is preparing her run for mayor. She has no respect for Mayor McCallion, nor does she respect the position of mayor.... When she gets an idea [or] opinion in her head, it is difficult to change."
Ms. Prentice acknowledged Ms. Parrish has rallied a number of council members behind her, but said she is ultimately putting "personal goals" ahead of the city's best interests.
Councilor Pat Saito said Ms. Parrish "seems to enjoy digging up issues and making them appear greater than they actually are," citing the pending inquiry as well as her action on the Enersource file. Last year, Ms. Parrish successfully rallied councillors to overrule a previous deal made by Ms. McCallion that gave the investment arm of OMERS a 10% stake in Enersource, the city-owned utility.
Ms. Parrish is no stranger to controversy. A former Liberal MP, she repeatedly made headlines for her strongly worded criticisms of the U. S. administration and the war in Iraq. In 2004, she referred to the American missile defence initiative as a "coalition of the idiots," and symbolized her opposition to the Bush administration by publicly stomping on a George W. Bush doll for the CBC's Rick Mercer.
She was ultimately ejected from the Liberal caucus, and made the switch to municipal politics, something Ms. McCallion yesterday suggested was not easy for the political firebrand.
"I think she's had some difficulty in switching, which is only natural," Ms. McCallion said. "In federal and provincial politics you're forever criticizing the other party, and you're looking at ways and means to outdo them or outsmart them or whatever. That's the nature.... We don't operate that way at the local level."
Still, Ms. McCallion called Ms. Parrish a "great asset" to council and a "very active" member of the team.
As for herself: Ms. McCallion still plans to run for re-election in 2010, health permitting, she says.
Myer Siemiatycki, a political expert at Ryerson University, said the paramount issue for the time being is getting to the bottom of the conflict-of-interest allegations. The fractiousness among council, he said, only serves to "muddy the waters."
Ms. Parrish has developed a record as a politician who attracts public attention, Mr. Siemiatycki said, not unlike a certain other local leader.
"There's a precedent in Mississauga for a strong female mayor with a strong persona," he said, "and Carolyn Parrish would bring that."
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