Friday, 14 June 2013

Mayor Hazel scolded, but will remain in office. What does this say about the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act?

Today, Judge John Sproat issued his opinion in the case against Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, dismissing the complaint brought by Elias Hazineh that she violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (MCIA). The case was dismissed because Judge Sproat found that Hazineh did not commence his complaint within the six week deadline established by the MCIA and that the votes the complaint focused on would not have applied to Mayor McCallion's son Peter McCallion's hotel project. This raises questions about whether the MCIA provides a viable mechanism for anyone to bring forward charges that politicians violate conflict of interest concerns.

Judge Sproat was sharply critical of Mayor McCallion's court testimony and some of her actions as mayor. Judge Sproat found that McCallion had the same financial interest as her son according to the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (making it necessary that she disclose such an interest on any relevant votes), was "willfully blind to the status" of her son's hotel development project and found that Mayor McCallion's "understanding of her legal obligations is contrary to common sense." (see pages 5, 9-10 of the judge's decision here:,_2013.pdf)

Notably, Judge Sproat in his thorough discussion of the evidence, also clearly explained that the votes in question did not apply to Peter McCallion's hotel development, so there was no likelihood that Mayor McCallion's actions would have been motivated by her financial conflict of interest (page 6). I was surprised by how extensively Judge Sproat discussed the evidence given that the the decision was ultimately based on a technicality that Mr. Hazineh did not commence his application within the six week deadline for such filings as prescribed by the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.

Mayor McCallion will remain in office, but promises to be in office only for another year. The important question citizens and taxpayers across Ontario must ask in light of the ruling is whether the MCIA must be revised before we could reasonably expect to have the effect on corruption and conflict of interest cases that it is designed to ensure. A six-week deadline to file a complaint may simply be too short of a time span for anyone to decide to challenge the actions of an official who may be acting in a corrupt fashion. This is especially true when a potential whistle-blower must consider the personal financial costs and risks of bring such a complaint. The Municipal Conflict of Interest Act must provide a viable mechanism to remove corrupt officeholders and I am not sure the six-week deadline provides such a viable mechanism. At the same time, seeing that Mayor McCallion reportedly spent $500,000 to defend herself from such charges, there clearly needs to be some barrier against frivolous suits. A six week deadline, though, is too high a barrier.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Respect democracy, respect Crombie

There are several election fraud lawsuits progressing across the GTA. Most involve violations that the candidates spent more than the limit for candidates in local elections.  The problem with these regulations is that violations are often quite small and arguably had little impact on the election outcome. Such campaigns are costly for both citizen and defendant and are little more than nuisance lawsuits that dangerously dilute the notion of election fraud.

Asking a judge to overrule the results of a democratic election is troubling and ought to require a mountain of evidence that the violations were egregious and may have made a difference to the election outcome. More often, these concerns should be raised when the elected official next seeks election.

Several opponents of Mississauga Ward 5 councillor +Bonnie Crombie have tried to overturn her narrow victory in the Ward 5 by-election to replace +Eve Adams. Crombie is right to ask these opponents to move on. Crombie is accused of illegally spending money on a poll before entering the race, and for failing to report the fair market value of products used during her campaign - specifically yard signs recycled from her previous candidacies as a Liberal MP. +Cecil Young and +Mark Cashin and their supporters argue that such signs should be valued like new signs or as illegal gifts from the Liberal Party. Crombie argues - correctly- that the value of old yard signs is virtually nil.

Ironically, Crombie was not the only candidate to recycle signs during the campaign. Most egregiously, Eve Adams' then-husband used her signs even if they said "re-elect."

Strategically, it was a wise move for Crombie to reuse her Liberal-red signs and those signs arguably played an important role in educating voters about their options. If her use of those signs was against the law, the law should be revised. She was a Liberal MP and that was part of her "brand" and her appeal. As a councillor, she is non-partisan, but reminding voters of her past record of public service and some of the stances she took as a MP would be vital tasks in any election campaign. Such information is necessary for voters to make educated decisions. Party labels play an important role in providing such information to voters who have little other knowledge about the candidates and the issues. Her past record as a center-left Liberal helps many voters fill in the gaps of their own knowledge!

If voters think that Ms. Crombie won her place on council through underhanded tactics, and I find that unlikely, they should wait until the next election to cast her out. In the meantime, they should find other reasons for voters to choose to elect someone else as Ward 5 Councillor or, perhaps soon, as Mayor!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Policies in search of a problem, or why citizens hate city hall

Brampton residents are angry about one of their neighbors knocking down a small house and building a huge house in its place. It appears that his construction is legal... But in response to the public complaints, Brampton City Council passed new zoning rules that prevent anyone from adding more than 15% of their existing house without gaining a zoning exemption (which takes time and costs money). The new rule will not impact the house that everyone is already upset about. Instead, it will affect almost everyone to expand their kitchen or add a new bedroom or sun room to the back of their house.

Is anyone asking why council passed this rule, knowing that it a) would not solve the existing problem, b) will create lots of red tape for many other people? Any policy change that fails to solve a perceived existing problem while causing more red tape restricting individual rights and property values for many people can only be called 'bad policy.'

This is why citizens hate city hall: powerless to stop a [perceived] problem, lacking the guts to admit impotence, and a new rule that overcompensates by generating unnecessary red tape for hundreds.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Did politics keep Amrit Mangat out of the cabinet?

New Ontario Premier +Kathleen Wynne announced her new cabinet yesterday and Mississauga-Brampton South MPP Amrit Mangat remains on the back-benches. Mangat’s exclusion appears to have much to do with her support for Wynne opponents +Eric Hoskins and Sandra Pupatello at the recent Ontario Liberal Leadership Convention.

Wynne’s new cabinet represents a major overhaul and expansion of the executive, so it may be surprising to some that Mangat was not promoted. Wynne will have 27 MPs on her executive committee, including many who are serving for the first time.

Not surprisingly, most appointments went to allies of Wynne's during her fight to become Premier. All ten MPs who backed her candidacy are ministers, including Linda Jeffrey, the MPP for Brampton-Springdale. Jeffrey will become Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, a potentially important position for the Peel Region and the challenges the region is facing in the cost of housing. Jeffrey will also serve as chair of the Liberal cabinet.

Bravely endorsing Wynne before the leadership convention was not a pre-requisite for inclusion in the cabinet. All of Wynne’s announced opponents at the Liberal leadership convention who currently sit as MPPs, Charles Sousa (Mississauga South), +Eric Hoskins (Toronto-St. Paul), Glen Murray (Toronto-Centre), and Harinder Takhar (Mississauga-Erindale) will join Wynne’s cabinet.

All but Takhar actually received promotions. Sousa will become Finance Minister, Hoskins will be Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment, and Murray will assume the infrastructure and transportation portfolios. Since none were seen as a likely winner at the Liberal leadership convention, their candidacies were likely motivated by bids to boost their visibility in order to garner cabinet promotions. Murray, Sousa and Hoskins played their political hands shrewdly, endorsing Wynne after dropping out of the race (Murray withdrew before the convention, while Sousa and Hopkins endorsed during the balloting). Takhar was the only opponent to endorse Pupatello and should count himself lucky to remain in cabinet.

Mangat was one of three MPPs who initially backed Hoskins’ candidacy for party leadership. Hoskins was eliminated on the first ballot, causing two of his backers,

Margarett Best (Scarborough-Guildwood) and Tracy MacCharles (Pickering-Scarborough East) to throw their support to Wynne. Mangat, though, endorsed Wynne’s biggest opponent, Sandra Pupatello. Best’s endorsement appears to be too little, too late, as she was demoted from outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty’s cabinet. MacCharles, though, received the consumer services portfolio.

Three other Peel Region MPPs who failed to back Wynne until late in the balloting (if ever), Pupatello supporter +Dipika Damerla (Mississauga East—Cooksville), and Gerard Kennedy supporters +Bob Delaney (Mississauga-Streetsville) and Vic Dhillon (Brampton West) will join Mangat on the back-benches. Dhillon & Mangat received Parliamentary Assistant appointments.