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where are the issues note?


Toronto Star - Nov. 2 - 06 - By Mike Funston

Going head-to-head with Hazel

No one has beaten McCallion in 28 years

But challengers appear undeterred by long odds

Don't tell Mississauga mayoral candidates Roy Willis and Don Barber that they're in a race for second place.

Despite the general view that Mayor Hazel McCallion is unbeatable, Willis and Barber won't concede anything, even though they're campaigning on shoestring budgets and without teams of canvassers in short, against all odds.

They're also well aware that if something should happen to McCallion, 85, before the election on Nov. 13, one of them could end up running the city.  McCallion, by the way, maintains she's in good health and shows no sign of easing the torrid pace she maintains at work.

"I wouldn't say that she's unbeatable," Willis, 69, said while campaigning at a coffee shop in Port Credit.  He lives in the lakeside neighbourhood now, after spending most of his life in Malton, where he was heavily involved as a community activist and volunteer while running his own business.  "Anything can happen."

Barber thinks he can win by hammering away on the issue of McCallion's age.  There's a chance she won't finish her term, he says, and that would cost taxpayers $1 million for a by-election a needless waste of their money.  He jokingly refers to himself, at age 50, as the "youth candidate," who will bring fresh ideas and approaches to the job.

McCallion, as she has done in recent elections, is spending no money on a campaign and has asked that any donations from supporters go to charity.

Willis, now retired, hands out leaflets printed on computer paper with his business card during casual strolls and restaurant sit-downs.  He's putting up 500 lawn signs left over from the 2003 municipal election, when he ran unsuccessfully for councillor in Ward 5.  Willis has run in the ward in every election starting in 1985 and lost, usually finishing second.  This is his first try for mayor.

Barber, a labourer, has spent about $500 to print small election signs he's posting on utility poles and leaflets he's handing out at Mississauga and GO transit stations and apartment buildings.  Barber has run for mayor three times since 1994, once finishing second.

Barber has always lived in Mississauga.  Willis is a 40-year resident.  Over the years, both have evolved from narrow-issue activists to citizen watchdogs that question, prod and criticize council members, especially McCallion, on any matter they regard as important.

But that's where the common ground ends. Their styles are dramatically different.

Willis has overcome the early rough edges and is almost a master of diplomacy now.

Barber is always on the attack and prone to outrageous statements.  After a recent all-candidates meeting, for instance, he announced that McCallion appears to be dying.  He calls the city hall clock tower the "sniper tower," an ugly structure that should be covered in vines.

Barber has antagonized city staff and council with what they regard as excessive Freedom of Information Act requests. In 2002, a ruling by the province's privacy commissioner limits him to four requests a year.

He is currently banned from city hall pending the outcome of a case in which he was charged with minor assault and causing a disturbance, involving a security guard who ejected him from a council meeting.  He's fighting the case in court, arguing the charges are unjustified harassment.

Last June, Barber and Willis were ejected from the council chamber after they tried to speak during a public question period.  Council's long-standing policy of allowing anyone to speak on any issue had been changed without public notification. When the pair were refused the opportunity to speak, they strongly objected.

Ordered out of the chamber, Willis left.  Barber kept arguing, and eventually was escorted out.  His trial is next April.

Willis was president of the Malton Ratepayers' Association in the late 1980s and later a director of the Council of Concerned Residents, which opposed runway expansion at Pearson Airport.

Barber formed Friends of the Cawthra Bush to fight against tree cutting on the 21-hectare property and lobbied to have it designated as a provincially significant wetland after discovering the presence of the rare Jefferson salamander and other species there.

At the Port Credit coffee shop, Willis introduced himself to patrons and handed out literature.  He's not canvassing like Barber, though.  He's relying mainly on news media to get his message out, he said.

He has forged many friendships in the community. From his days in Malton, he has built a strong relationship with the Sikh community, which has dubbed him "Chacha," a friendly nickname meaning uncle in Punjabi.

In contrast, Barber was out pounding the pavement at 7 a.m. on a blustery, cold day, at the Mississauga Transit terminal at Square One.  Most people accepted his leaflet without comment, and only a couple of youths engaged him in conversation.  There was little evidence of the anti-McCallion sentiment Barber says he often hears.

Barber has a campaign website, http://www.mayor-of-mississauga.com, that pulls no punches and pushes the envelope when it comes to libel law.

Fighting traffic congestion and improving public transit are key planks in both candidates' platforms.  They want more parking spaces at GO stations.

Both candidates are also opposed to a possible new gas-fired generation plant at the site of the former coal-burning Lakeview Generating Station.

Willis is opposed to provincially mandated pooling money sent by the 905 regions to help Toronto pay for social services as is just about every Mississauga politician.

Barber wants to create an ombudsman's office at city hall and establish an environment committee with some citizen representatives, he said.

And, perhaps to settle an old score, he would re-establish the old policy for public question period allowing anyone to speak on any issue rather than just that day's agenda.


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