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Toronto Star - Jul. 10, 2010 - By Editorial.

What’s a conflict?

Mississauga residents and, indeed, people across the province have been well-served by a judge’s decision this week to take a broad view of alleged conflict of interest in Mayor Hazel McCallion’s city hall.

McCallion’s lawyers had attempted to narrow the scope of the inquiry by defining “conflict of interest” in strict legal terms as applying only to votes at meetings of council or one of its committees.  In other words, the only test for McCallion would be whether she declared a financial interest in a matter at a public meeting and refrained from voting.  What she said or did in private meetings would be off limits.

Justice Douglas Cunningham, who is heading up the inquiry, found that definition too limited.  “Members of city council are entrusted by those who elect them to act in the public interest,” Cunningham said in a strongly worded ruling this week.  “Optics are important.  In other words, members of a municipal council must conduct themselves in such a way as to avoid any reasonable apprehension that their personal interest could in any way influence their elected responsibility.  Suffice it to say that members of council (and staff) are not to use their office to promote private interests, whether their own or those of relatives or 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.”

The inquiry has only just begun examining the mayor’s role in a failed land deal involving her son, Peter McCallion. (Its initial hearings probed the signing of a controversial utility deal).  In fairness to both the McCallions, the public should avoid leaping to conclusions before the inquiry has heard from everyone and reported.

Whatever his findings, however, Cunningham’s decision to take an uninhibited look at conflict of interest is a welcome indication that his report will be comprehensive in nature.

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