THE DEMOCRATIC REPORTER
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Toronto Star - Aug. 22, 2010 - Editorial.
More troubles in MississaugaAs the Mississauga inquiry into alleged conflict of interest under Mayor Hazel McCallion adjourns, it has already produced revelations that build a strong case for reform. Testimony is to resume on Sept. 13, but what has emerged so far casts a shadow on how business is done in McCallion’s city hall.
The inquiry, headed by Justice Douglas Cunningham, is specifically probing McCallion’s connection to a proposed $14.4 million land sale involving her son, Peter. The deal was a key component in a plan to erect a $1.5 billion hotel, convention and condo complex in downtown Mississauga — a development that ultimately fell through in the faltering economy of 2008.
Mississauga residents have a right to expect their elected leaders to refrain from using public office to further their private interests, or those of relatives and friends.
Yet the inquiry has documented several troubling instances where the mayor attempted to further, or defend, the deal in which her son was involved.
Far from being disinterested, mayor McCallion actively arranged and participated in discussions involving her son and the property.
The land in question was owned by Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System and, as the sale faltered, mayor McCallion personally called OMERS head Michael Nobrega asking that he give the buyers some slack on a key payment deadline. An extension was granted. That was just one of McCallion’s several interventions with OMERS on behalf of her son’s company.
And an application for the convention and hotel complex was moved through the approvals process at city hall despite not paying $220,000 in required fees to Mississauga’s treasury.
Through her lawyer, the mayor has maintained that she didn’t realize her son was part-owner of World Class Developments, the company seeking to buy the key parcel of land from OMERS. She allegedly thought Peter McCallion was merely acting as a real estate agent on the deal. Yet the mayor herself witnessed — in writing — an agreement giving him part-ownership of the company.
She apparently signed without reading it and her lawyer says she was misled by her son. In a bizarre admission, Peter McCallion testified that he didn’t dupe his mother because he didn’t realize he was part-owner of the company.
The mayor’s justification for getting involved is that she was trying to secure a development that she sincerely believed would be best for the city. She assumed public accountability would be fully served merely by stepping back and declaring a conflict of interest whenever the project came before city council. (She failed at even that, neglecting to declare on one occasion.)
If nothing else, this inquiry has provided a valuable public service by showing the limitations of narrow conflict of interest rules that simply require politicians to state a declaration and refrain from action in a city council or committee meeting. Potential conflicts can clearly reach far beyond that.
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