When Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion was cross-examined in court about meetings she had with developers behind a $1.5-billion hotel and convention centre project, her answer to most questions began with "I can't recall."
On Friday, the 92-year-old Ms. McCallion wrapped up two days of testimony in a conflict of interest hearing that could end with her being tossed from office.
The mayor is accused of wielding her power as a councillor in Peel Region to benefit her son, real estate agent Peter McCallion. Mississauga resident Elias Hazineh, the applicant, alleges the mayor voted in council to amend a development charges by-law and also seconded a motion to extend the transition period by 18 months so that her son could avoid paying new, higher development fees that could have totalled $11-million.
Records from the mayor's journal show she had meeting after meeting scheduled between 2003 to 2007 with Mr. McCallion and various partners in World Class Developments, the firm that proposed the downtown hotel complex. The journal listed Greater Toronto Area restaurants and Ms. McCallion's home as meeting venues. When Ms. McCallion took the witness stand Friday, she said she couldn't recall if she'd attended most of the meetings.
"It would take my memory back to confirm that all those meetings occurred," she told the court. "I am constantly cancelling events and not rescheduling at all."
Ms. McCallion did confirm attendance at one meeting, which took place at Toronto's Pier 4 Storehouse Restaurant in January, 2007. A piece of evidence from that day was also filed with the court: a document the mayor signed that named her son as principal of World Class Developments. Ms. McCallion told court on Thursday that the dim lighting in the restaurant and the possibility she might not have brought her reading glasses are the reasons why she did not know her son was anything more than a realtor representing the developer.
Through her two days on the witness stand, Ms. McCallion repeatedly said as soon as she learned of her son's involvement in bringing the convention centre to the city, she tried to remove herself from any discussions about it.
"My advice to staff was that I did not wish to be aware of any of the application of [World Class Developments]," she said. "Any part of when [World Class Developments] put anything in the hands of the city, whether it was the site plan or whatever."
At one point during questioning, lawyer Tom Richardson asked Ms. McCallion directly about the day she seconded the motion to extend the transition period on the new development charges in Peel council – the act that forms the basis of the conflict-of-interest charge.
"Had you known on September 13, 2007, that the transition provision you seconded would result in savings of $11-million to [World Class Developments], would you have declared a conflict of interest?" he asked.
With furrowed brow, Ms. McCallion replied, "No. Because I feel very strongly that the development levies are like a tax on development and growth in the city. It applies to everybody that wishes to proceed with a building permit."
Ms. McCallion said she didn't know what the financial implications would be for taxpayers at the time she voted. Mr. Richardson pointed out that two weeks after that Peel council meeting, city staff said allowing a transition period would result in a loss of $28-million for the region, which could fall on the shoulders of taxpayers.
"You have a reputation of running a very tight fiscal ship. Why would you bring a motion with such fiscal implications without being aware of those implications?" Mr. Richardson asked.
Ms. McCallion said not allowing for a transition period could lead to cancelled projects and that would also lead to significant losses in tax revenue for the city for years to come.
"It's a balancing act," she said. "And a tough one."
On Monday, Mr. Hazineh will take the witness stand himself. At the start of the week, Ms. McCallion's lawyers suggested he was a "straw man" who had filed the charge against the mayor on the behalf of former Mississauga councillor Carolyn Parrish, the mayor's chief rival. They have suggested Ms. Parrish has done the fundraising to cover Mr. Hazineh's legal costs, which had totalled more than $150,000 last month.
Mr. Hazineh said he received funds from a long list of people, many of whom are in his own community.
Mr. Hazineh will also be asked to clear up discrepancies in a sworn affidavit he filed with the court last year and a cross-examination from January of this year. Mr. Hazineh's lawyers say he learned of Ms. McCallion's alleged conflict in October 2011 after he read a story published in the Mississsauga News and promptly filed a charge of conflict of interest with the court the following month. But in his cross-examination, he said he may have read an article on the matter published in the National Post a year earlier. When he came to know of the alleged conflict is essential since the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act requires complainants to file charges with the court within six weeks of learning of a conflict.
"If [the mayor's] counsel manage to convince the judge I had prior knowledge, that I knew in 2010 or earlier, then the whole case falls apart," Mr. Hazineh said.