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Opening comments:  More at the end.

Toronto Star - Apr. 28, 2006. 05:18 AM - By Mike Funston & Rob Ferguson, staff reporters.
With files from Bob Mitchell, Rick Brennan and Vanessa Lu

Should Hazel McCallion still be driving?

Police to question mayor after crash
85-year-old says she's fit to drive

A single-car accident that left 85-year-old Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion unhurt after she drove into a street sign Wednesday has municipal observers wondering whether the veteran politician should still be driving.

Although Peel police Chief Mike Metcalf has ordered an investigation into the incident because of the mayor's high public profile, McCallion herself is in no doubt about her fitness to continue driving.

"I pass my licence every year," McCallion said after the incident, which left her shaken but unbowed.  "I haven't had an accident for years and years."

McCallion had just left the Mississauga Convention Centre at Derry Rd. and Hurontario St. -- where she'd attended a Peel Police Services awards banquet honouring officers, civilians and the media -- when the accident occurred at 9:11 p.m.

The mayor, who admitted to a moment's lapse -- "My attention was not on the road at the time," she said -- was talking on her hands-free cellphone as she turned from McLaughlin Rd. onto a side street near Derry Rd.  She took the turn wide, and struck a signpost in the centre median.

Although shaken up when the airbags deployed in her leased Buick Park Avenue, she was back behind the wheel of a different vehicle yesterday.

Peel police Insp. Paul Thorne, while noting "alcohol played absolutely no role" in the incident, said McCallion -- who did not get a traffic ticket -- will nevertheless be asked to sit down with police.

"We will be formally interviewing Mayor McCallion," he said. "There are a number of issues that need to be looked at," Thorne added, noting the investigation should be finished by Monday.

But others aren't waiting to suggest that it's time that the mayor -- who drives herself while keeping to a busy appointment schedule -- get a driver.

"Obviously, she's tired," said Don Barber, a self-styled citizen advocate and long-time McCallion nemesis.  "Nobody's going to dispute that she burns the candle at both ends.  She must have hit that sign with a lot of force.  That could easily have been a person.

"If she wants to drive on her private time when she's well rested, fine."

Roy Willis, who has registered to run against McCallion in the November municipal election, agrees McCallion should get a chauffeur.

"It should be mandatory," Willis said.

Because of her long hours, hiring a chauffeur for McCallion won't come cheap.  She'd either need two working in shifts or one with plenty of energy and no social life.

Another motorist, not knowing McCallion was involved, called in the crash Wednesday.  Thorne said McCallion didn't need to go to hospital for any medical treatment.

McCallion yesterday was going about her usual business.

"How do I look?" she asked, turning to one side as she appeared at a Mississauga convention centre for a luncheon speech, and looking none the worse for wear.  "I look as good as always.  The car?  The front end's a little bashed."

Most other Greater Toronto mayors contacted yesterday do their own driving on the job.

The Ministry of Transportation's Bob Nichols said Ontario has a Senior Driver Renewal Program that requires motorists, when they turn 80, to take a written test, but not a road test.  Written tests are required every two years after.

McCallion said she was besieged by calls from the media yesterday.  "Everybody knows I had an accident.  I wish we could get them (media) out here when we have something good to talk about."


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