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Toronto Star - Jul. 6, 2010 - By Phinjo Gombu Urban Affairs Reporter.

McCallion’s lawyers push to narrow inquiry’s scope
Limited definition of ‘conflict of interest’ could change direction of
Mississauga probe

Hazel McCallion’s lawyers went on the offensive Tuesday to protect the Mississauga mayor’s interests at a public inquiry that has begun probing her involvement in a controversial land deal involving McCallion’s son.

Before even the first witness was called, they asked the inquiry to use a very narrow definition of “conflict of interest” as defined by the provincial Municipal Conflict of Interest act.  Doing so would considerably narrow the extent of the council-requested probe.

The inquiry was prompted by revelations that McCallion, took part in at least two private meetings involving an important piece of downtown land her son’s company wanted to buy from the OMERS pension plan, while a request to allow development on the land was before council.

The act requires politicians to declare a financial interest in a matter (as it relates to themselves, a parent, spouse or child) only at council and committee votes.

The terms of the inquiry, as framed by council last year, are much broader and involve looking at relationships between council members and representatives and principals of World Class Developments and OMERS.  It is also looking at private meetings not covered by the conflict of interest act.

The inquiry is also expected to consider the city’s code of conduct and those of other cities that prohibit using one’s elected office to seek favour for relatives and friends.

“The mayor’s conduct must be assessed by the standards of conduct at the time (the provincial code) and not by rules that did not apply or exist,” argued lawyer Liz McIntyre, who represents McCallion.

She said the rules of the game were being changed by considering a broader definition of conflict.

William McDowell, the lawyer for inquiry head Justice Douglas Cunningham, disagreed.  He urged Cunningham not to limit himself to any definition of conflict before evidence has been heard.

“We say it is open to you not to define the phrase ‘conflict of interest’ or misconduct,” said McDowell.  “We do not know the extent of the all the relationships among the players.”

McDowell said the mayor’s position was akin to saying that, other than refraining from voting, she was free to be involved in the financial interests of her son’s company — the very issues the inquiry is considering.

Lawyer Clifford Lax, who represents Mississauga, used stronger language, telling Cunningham that council deliberately left the terms of reference broad to include possible inappropriate conduct that falls outside the provincial act.

“Where a municipality has asked you to assist in providing good governance, constraining your ability make recommendations … would defeat the purpose of council having passed their resolution,” Lax said.  “I urge you to not fall into the trap of defining this inquiry out of existence.”

McCallion’s lawyers yesterday insisted that council had already heard at least two independent legal opinions that said she did not breach the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.

Justice Cunningham expressed some frustration at McCallion’s lawyer, asking why the issue was being raised so late in the game, when the terms of reference for the inquiry had been set last year.

Peter McCallion has adopted the same position on the issue as his mother, saying any judgment should be based on the narrow terms of the provincial code.

Cunningham has reserved his ruling to a later date.

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