Marcus Gee

Being mayor means never having to say you're sorry

Marcus Gee
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

With its Greek columns and soaring domed ceiling, Mississauga’s grandiose city council chamber is a fine setting for a display of hubris. Mayor Hazel McCallion, an almost godlike figure in Toronto’s western satellite city, delivered a classic on Monday with her proud, no-regrets response to a damning inquiry report.

Inquiry commissioner Douglas Cunningham found that she was in “a real and apparent conflict of interest” when she promoted a hotel and convention centre project even though her son Peter stood to make millions from the deal.

Ms. McCallion could easily have defused those findings with a simple apology. Ninety years old and in her 12th term, she is such an icon that voters will forgive her almost anything. But saying sorry is not the McCallion way. Pressed by reporters to say whether she believed she had done anything wrong – anything at all – she repeatedly declined.

Justice Cunningham, she insisted, had not accused her of violating provincial rules. True, but she was evading the point. What he said was that, although the mayor did not technically break the vague and inadequate rules in the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, “both common law and common sense” should have told her to give the project “a wide berth.”

Instead, she pursued it with feverish zeal, pushing the project hard at every opportunity and remaining altogether blind to the simple and obvious rule that a mayor “cannot promote the financial interests of family members and must avoid any appearance of impropriety.” Given Peter McCallion’s financial interest, it was clearly “improper” for her to use the power of her office to promote the project, Justice Cunningham says.

That is putting it mildly. Even with the best motives, pushing a deal that stands to profit your own son is a textbook case of conflict of interest. Judge Cunningham finds that the mayor knew that Peter McCallion was at the very least a real estate agent in the deal. If the project had gone through, her son might have made “more money than he would otherwise have earned over the course of many years.”

Yet, over and over on Monday, the mayor challenged the essential finding of the Cunningham inquiry: that she was indeed in conflict of interest. “If any citizen feels that I was in conflict, I think the commissioner has clearly indicated that I was not in conflict within the conflict-of-interest guidelines,” she told reporters.

That was a quibbling, caviling response to Justice Cunningham’s fair-minded report, which went out of its way to credit the mayor for her “careful stewardship” of Mississauga’s interests over many years. Instead of acknowledging, much less accepting, the judge’s criticism, she crowed about the praise he bestowed on her. “I want to thank the commissioner for the confidence he has in the mayor of Mississauga,” she said.

Like many leaders who have been in power for too long, Ms. McCallion seems to think that she always knows what is best for her people. La ville, c’est moi. After building central Mississauga from farmland to skyscrapers, she became obsessed – to use her own word – with crowning the development of downtown with a convention centre and luxury hotel. Without them, she said on Monday, Mississauga would never be taken seriously as a major city.

Her drive, as always, is awe inspiring. But things have changed since she first came to office in 1978, when deals were made on a handshake and everyone knew everyone else. As Justice Cunningham finds, it won’t do to say anything goes as long as it promotes the public good.

By failing to admit her mistakes in this affair, Ms. McCallion has left an blot on her remarkable record.




You can hear the rocks crashing through the glasshouse where Douglas Cunningham still hangs his shingle at his law offices of Cunningham Swan Carty Little & Bonham LLP whose broad range of legal services includes, judicial influence, political influence that has corruption as its obvious result.

Cunningham, says that “both common law and common sense” should have told her to give the project “a wide berth.”

Well would Justice Cunningham kindly explain why it is that he still hangs his shingle out at his law office in Kingston?

Justice Cunningham is a political animal, his judicial decision in this case just happens to be text book perfect, its also convenient in that it supports one political group, as have done a multitude of other decisions including the criminal trial of one former Ottawa Mayor who Cunningham found not guilty.

Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't the point is, just how much faith can you have in a judge who still hangs out his shingle at his law office in Kingston and still, still claims to have judicial impartiality.

Justice Cunningham and his law firm are freaky exceptions to the rule that once a lawyer becomes a judge that his name is removed from his practice, his former practice.

The fact is, he still hangs out his shingle, and, his law firm still rakes in mega millions of dollars as a result of his name hanging, in the view of the public with all its corrupt inferences.