Politics
Mississauga, Ontario mayor on the defence in conflict case

Mayor Hazel McCallion

Credits: Dave Abel / Toronto SUN

MICHELE MANDEL | QMI AGENCY

BRAMPTON, Ont. -- Perhaps it's just me, but Hurricane Hazel seems to have lost some of the famed bluster behind what's always made her such a mighty force of nature.

Back on a witness stand for the third time in her long, illustrious career to defend herself against allegations of conflict of interest, Hazel McCallion was finally displaying some of the ravages of her 92 years. Always so confident and in control, there were striking glimpses of weakness in the formidable wizened wizard of Canada's sixth largest city.

Despite her ear fitted with a hearing aid tilted toward Justice John Sproat and her lawyer, Liz McIntyre, the Mississauga, Ont., mayor still had to have many of the questions repeated. Asked to read a document, she squinted in difficulty until her lawyer reminded her that she could use her reading glasses. And she would often trail off onto tangents about her beloved city before her counsel would gently rein her back to the issue at hand.

And that issue is this: Did McCallion vote in favour of a regional bylaw in 2007 because she knew it had the potential of saving her son's company $11 million in development fees?

To that, the diminutive mayor responded with the steely force of old: "I did not."

Throughout her day-long testimony, McCallion calmly echoed what she repeatedly told the Mississauga judicial inquiry several years ago: that she never knew her son Peter was anything more than a real estate agent and representative for World Class Developments (WCD), the firm that tried but failed to build a $1.5 billion hotel and convention centre in Mississauga's downtown. She may have witnessed a document in a dark Toronto restaurant where her son signed as a shareholder of WCD back in January 2007, but she wouldn't have caught that. "I don't read documents. My role is to witness their signature."

In fact, the inquiry that ultimately condemned her for "real and apparent conflict of interest" in 2011 heard that Peter McCallion was a 16% owner of the company.

But his involvement -- financial or otherwise -- played no part in her championing the plan, she insisted. It was her long-held desire to have a luxury hotel in the city core and she happily admitted to pressuring OMERS, the owner of the land, to sell it to WCD for that purpose. She would have done the same for any company willing to make her dream a reality, she said, but she was completely hands off as soon as her son's proposal began to wind its way through city hall.

"I wanted to be completely separate from the process," she explained.

So McCallion said she had no idea where WCD was in terms of its plan to build the complex when she seconded an amendment introduced by Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell at Peel Regional Council that would grandfather lower development fees for projects already underway. And she didn't declare a conflict because she understood there was no need to do so when a bylaw was a general one that applied to everyone, which would conveniently make it an exception under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.

She wasn't aware WCD then tried to take advantage of her bylaw amendment by rushing its site plan application into the system before the new deadline took effect, she said.

Even though this was her dream -- and her son's baby -- she didn't keep tabs on how it was getting on.

That seems rather hard to believe -- and that's certainly what Mississauga resident Elias Hazineh asserts in bringing McCallion to court on this conflict of interest allegation. He is seeking to have the mayor removed from office if she's found guilty.

The popular mayor avoided that fate in 1982 when a judge found that while she was in conflict when she voted on freeing land for development that included a five-acre plot owned by her husband and herself, it was a "bona fide error of judgment."

This time, in the twilight of her career, she may not be as lucky. McCallion faces cross-examination on Friday.

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