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.