Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion may have signed a document that named her son as principal of a development firm that proposed a $1.5-billion hotel and convention centre in downtown Mississauga, but pleaded ignorance in court to knowing he had an ownership stake in the project.
The document she signed is a key piece of evidence against her in a conflict-of-interest case being heard in Ontario Superior Court this week. Mississauga’s mayor of 34 years is accused of voting in favour of amendments to a development by-law in Peel regional council that would have saved her son millions of dollars – an act that could constitute a conflict of interest.
From the witness stand, she told court that in January, 2007, she met with her real estate agent son, Peter McCallion, and his developer friend, Leo Couprie, at a Toronto restaurant. The men were off to China in search of investors for the hotel project and Ms. McCallion said she was under the impression the purpose of the meeting was to pass along the names of a few contacts she had in Hong Kong and also to serve as a witness as they signed a document.
The document, it turned out, transferred ownership of World Class Developments, Mr. Couprie’s company, to Mr. McCallion. Ms. McCallion said she had no idea.
Through her line of questioning, Ms. McCallion’s lawyer, Liz McIntyre, made the case that her client was in a dark restaurant, did not read the words in the document and likely did not wear her reading glasses before she signed. Later in questioning, the mayor said she only learned that her son had been identified as the principal of World Class Developments at the time of her judicial inquiry in 2011 (in it, Ms. McCallion was found to have been in conflict of interest for promoting the hotel and convention centre project in which her son was involved, though she has remained in office because she did not actually break conflict-of-interest law).
“I was kind of shocked and said, ‘What in the world is all this about that you’re principal of WCD? Well, you’ve clearly led me to believe you’re a real estate agent and representative for Leo,’” Ms. McCallion recalled from the witness stand. “He said, ‘Well I’m not the principal.’ He said that Leo owned all the shares.”
She said she then told her son she’d seen the document that listed him as the principal and urged him to have a lawyer correct the record. One of the pillars of Ms. McCallion’s defence is that the development by-law in question was one of “general application” – meaning it would affect all those submitting development applications in the region, not just her son.
To make the case that Ms. McCallion had no need to declare a conflict of interest, Ms. McIntyre asked her client if the City of Mississauga had dog licensing fees. Ms. McCallion not only said yes, but offered that she herself was a dog owner.
“Is the dog licensing fee something that would be approved by council?” Ms. McIntyre asked. “Yes,” Ms. McCallion said. “Have you declared a conflict of interest in relation to the dog licensing fees?” Ms. McIntyre deadpanned. “No,” Ms. McCallion said with a chuckle.
Earlier this week, the lawyers who represent Elias Hazineh, the Mississauga resident who has brought the charge of conflict of interest against the mayor, built a case that Ms. McCallion voted in favour of a transition period for new development fees to give developers a bit of extra time to enjoy lower fees. They argued Ms. McCallion had done this – breaking from her philosophy of “growth must pay for growth” – because of the potential savings for her son. But during questioning, Ms. McCallion said transition periods were the norm for any new levies at both the municipal and regional level.
“We don’t say tomorrow the transit fee goes up. We provide transition periods for those fees. Give time for the people to adjust,” she said.
In this case, she said in 2007 – when she voted in favour of the amendment – the country was in the midst of an economic downturn. Because neighbouring regions such as Halton and Kitchener-Waterloo were also courting industrial/commercial development, Ms. McCallion said she supported the lower fees in order to give developers an incentive to build in Mississauga.
Ms. McCallion spent the day repeating that she didn’t know any financial details about the company, was not aware of when it submitted a site plan to the city and in general had avoided discussing details with city staff because she didn’t want to appear to be influencing the project. She said her son had also not given her updates on the progress of the project.
The mayor’s defence team wound down questioning by addressing something that will likely come up during the mayor’s cross-examination, which begins Friday: the fact that the mayor’s own journal shows she had many meetings – including some at her home – with many members of the World Class Developments team.
In a long line of questioning of each agenda item, Ms. McCallion explained that she has anywhere between six to 14 meetings each day and could not recall what was discussed at a single one of the meetings with the World Class Developments players.