THE DEMOCRATIC REPORTER
Pages of Special Interest;
Other Table of Contents;
Scanned, recopied or Internet copy, if there are errors, please e-mail me with corrections:
Toronto Star - Oct. 1, 2009 - Phinjo Gombu, Urban Affairs Reporter
Mayor McCallion faces judge's audit
After more than three decades of uncontested rule, Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion finds herself facing the scrutiny of a judge who will conduct a review into her involvement in a $14.4 million land deal being brokered by her son.
A fractured council voted 6-4 on Wednesday to call for a judicial review into whether she broke conflict-of-interest rules.
"I believe we have no choice," said Councillor Nando Iannicca, who put forward the motion, after a long closed-door meeting to hear a legal opinion and a heated public debate that had politicians accusing each other of dereliction of duty or conducting a witch hunt.
"We are going to come clean ... Let another party review it and let the process unfold as it may," he said. "To do anything else makes you unworthy of public office."
The call was supported by Councillor Carolyn Parrish, who said only a judicial review would clear the air of innuendo that has arisen in connection with Peter McCallion's realestate dealings in the city.
McCallion's council supporters were quick to accuse the others of conducting a witch hunt, with Pat Mullin calling it "a plot to discredit the mayor."
Katie Mahoney said it would make more sense to hire an integrity commissioner to rule on such matters.
This marks the second time in her storied municipal career that the wildly popular McCallion, who has not seen a real opponent for decades, will be under scrutiny over conflict-of-interest allegations.
Back in 1981-82, a judge ruled she was in breach of conflict provisions by being present in discussions about a rezoning issue involving an area where she owned land.
First elected to office in 1978, McCallion has said she will run again next year if her health holds up.
An inquiry that leads her into the minefield of conflict-of-interest accusations is sure to be watched closely across the GTA.
McCallion was not present for Wednesday's discussion and vote. She could not be reached for comment afterwards.
But she has previously defended her involvement in Peter McCallion's plan to buy prime land for a hotel by saying she could not absolve herself completely from city matters even when they involved her son, and that she believed conflict-of-interest rules applied only to council meetings.
The vote followed discussion of a legal opinion provided by Toronto law firm McLean and Kerr, which was asked to study the matter after court affidavits surfaced showing McCallion was present at two private meetings involving Peter McCallion's company, World Class Developments, and OMERS, the pension fund that had made a tentative deal to sell the land.
The legal opinion suggested the mayor may indeed have contravened conflict-of-interest rules.
Councillor Carmen Corbasson told the Star that she voted for the inquiry because she found it difficult to reconcile the idea that councillors could meet privately on matters where they had a conflict, as McCallion appears to have done.
"I would never think to intervene on behalf of my daughters and go to a meeting in a hotel room with a daughter and the buyer for the city and the supplier and sit there," she said. "Even if I did not say anything, just my presence would be an influence, in my opinion."
The legal opinion also concludes that the business before council involving the land was "substantive" because it involved lifting zoning restrictions.
However, it says, if McCallion's failure to disclose her involvement as required on May 21, 2008, is found to be the result of an honest error in judgment or committed through inadvertence, the Mississauga mayor would not be subject to penalties.
The report also leaves open the possibility that the legal opinion could be proved incorrect, if it is determined that the discussion involving the company was procedural and not substantive in nature.
Complicating the issue was a discrepancy in the council minutes of May 21, 2008, which stated that McCallion had declared a conflict of interest regarding a prior meeting, which she missed, at which the rezoning had been discussed.
A probe by the city clerk concluded Tuesday that, according to a videotape of that session, McCallion did not actually voice a conflict. How the item showed up in the minutes remains unexplained.
Since the land deal fell through, Mississauga entered negotiations with OMERS itself to buy the land, just north of city hall, for a new Sheridan College campus. That deal was completed Wednesday.
OMERS is a minority shareholder in the city's hydro utility, Enersource, and fund president and CEO Michael Nobrega sits on the Enersource board with McCallion.
[COMMENTS BY DON B. - ]
Your Financial Donations are Greatly Appreciated