THE DEMOCRATIC REPORTER
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Toronto Star - Aug. 18, 2010 - By Phinjo Gombu Urban Affairs Reporter.
Mississauga mayor’s help brought a quick fix,
Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion’s ability to solve problems for her son’s company as a $14.4 million land purchase faltered came into sharp focus at a public inquiry Wednesday.
A paper trail — emails and telephone logs — track how her intervention from the top at the request of developer Tony DeCicco, a principal in World Class Developments along with Peter McCallion, quickly resolved the issue of a late payment.
The incident hints at “impressive” access, according to commission counsel William McDowell — though DeCicco denied that Peter’s involvement in the $1.5 billion project they were planning in downtown Mississauga made him more comfortable making requests of the mayor.
The question of access is important to the inquiry, which is probing Hazel McCallion’s behind-the-scenes role in the hotel/convention centre project, amid allegations that it represented a conflict of interest. McCallion has maintained she was unaware of her son’s ownership in the project and was acting in the city’s best interests.
On Nov. 19, 2008, DeCicco called the mayor’s office asking to speak to her about getting an extension on a payment due the next day to a subsidiary of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS), from which the company hoped to buy downtown land. It was one of several times she was asked to intervene that year as the company struggled to meet conditions OMERS had attached to the purchase.
McDowell asked DeCicco if he “consistently involved the mayor in trying to get concessions from (OMERS).”
“I kept her informed,” replied DeCicco, a point he repeated again and again.
“She did that because you asked her to do it,” said McDowell.
“I suppose,” said DeCicco.
“The mayor was able to push (OMERS) along the way,” said McDowell.
“I’m not sure the word ‘pushed’ is correct,” DeCicco replied.
DeCicco told McDowell it was not fair to say he felt comfortable calling the mayor because her son was involved. And later, responding to a direct question from Justice Douglas Cunningham, DeCicco said he did not “use the mayor.”
He insisted there was no real benefit to getting her involved because it involved getting things like extensions that “everybody else was granting.”
The call, summarized in a city hall phone log, was one of 17 he made to the mayor’s office in late 2008, as OMERS began to back away from the sale over doubts about the company’s ability to carry through on the hotel scheme.
The first call describes the urgent request. A second, later in the day, thanks the mayor, saying he’ll wait to hear from her. The next day he calls the mayor again saying no changes have occurred to the deal.
Hours later, OMERS head Michael Nobrega, sitting in a Munich airport, emails OMERS official Michael Kitt, saying the mayor has called asking the pension fund to “give Tony some slack” over the payments.
Kitt responds: “Consider it done.”
Nobrega then calls the mayor’s office to say the problem has been dealt with.
McDowell, pressing the point with DeCicco, said it was “pretty impressive” he could get the mayor to call one of the most powerful financial officers in Canada. McDowell said he wouldn’t be able to call the head of CIBC if he was behind on his mortgage.
“I’m not sure,” DeCicco replied.
Mayor McCallion’s lawyer, Elizabeth McIntyre, in cross-examining DeCicco, described the younger McCallion’s involvement as “incidental,” insisting, as she always has, that the mayor’s promotion of the project was in the city’s interests.
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