Instead of the graceful retirement she has planned, Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion faces the threat of being forced out of office. Wednesday marks the start of a case that will determine whether Ms. McCallion broke conflict of interest laws when she engaged in activity at Peel regional council that allegedly could have benefited her son.
Mississauga resident Elias Hazineh alleges the mayor, as a member of Peel council, proposed and then voted in favour of amending a development charges by-law that would have saved her son, Peter McCallion, millions. If found guilty, Ms. McCallion could not only lose her seat on Peel council, but also be booted from the mayor's office.
In 2007, as the cost to build and repair infrastructure grew, Peel Region dramatically raised development fees through a new by-law. In regional council, Ms. McCallion voted in favour of amending the by-law so developers who had already submitted applications would qualify for the previous, lower development fees – a transition period of sorts.
According to a factum filed with the Ontario Superior Court, Mr. Hazineh's lawyers will argue Ms. McCallion's son, Peter, a real estate agent with World Class Developments – which had proposed an extravagent, $1.5-billion downtown convention centre and hotel complex in downtown Mississauga – stood to save $11-million in development fees if the complex was approved and built as a result of the amendment.
By supporting the amendment to that by-law, Ms. McCallion had a clear conflict of interest, Mr. Hazineh's lawyers will argue.
But Ms. McCallion's lawyers will make the case that there was no conflict of interest. Even with the by-law amendment, World Class Developments could not have qualified for the lower development fees because it had submitted its application past the deadline for the transition period, according to a factum Ms. McCallion's lawyers fiiled with the court. They will also argue that the mayor's son had only a small stake in World Class Developments and would not have benefit financially if the deal had gone through.
The mayor has made no secret of her support for a convention centre downtown.
"They (voters) know that I fought for a convention centre and I will continue to fight for one," Ms. McCallion said in an interview last fall. "It's unfortunate that my son was able to convince someone to invest in it. It's too bad he did it. I wish he had not done it. It's the closest we've ever come to getting a convention centre."
As part of her defence, Ms. McCallion's lawyers will argue that the hotel and convention centre would not only have benefit World Class Developments but also Peel Region.
It's a point Mr. Hazineh's lawyers plan to challenge.
"While the interest of Peter McCallion, [World Class Developmetns], and the qualifying developers may include an interest in the economic development of the community in a general sense, [World Class Developments] also had a direct interest in minimizing costs and maximizing profits on the [World Class Developments] project. This added interest was not an interest in common with the electors generally," they say in their factum.
This isn't the first time Ms. McCallion has been accused of breaking conflict of interest laws.
A 2011 judicial inquiry that cost Mississauga taxpayers $7-million found Ms. McCallion had a "real and apparent" conflict of interest when she aggressively supported a bid for the same downtown hotel/convention centre project her son was involved with. But the commissioner of the inquiry, Douglas Cunningham, did not rule that the mayor had broken the rules in the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act since she declared a conflict of interest in Mississauga council in 2008 (something she never did at Peel regional council).
Before that, in 1982, she was found guilty of conflict of interest in a case related to releasing land in the city for development, including some she owned. The judge ruled Ms. McCallion had made an error in judgment and she not only kept her office, but went on to be re-elected as mayor for three more decades.