Mississauga mayoral rivals gang up on McCallion

Mississauga mayoral rivals gang up on McCallion - image

Candidates vying to unseat Hazel McCallion used a rare televised debate Tuesday night to roundly attack the Mississauga Mayor’s record, citing a pattern of unsustainable development during her more than three decades in office.

Five of the 16 citizens running against the city’s legendary Mayor turned out for the debate, hosted by the Mississauga Residents’ Association Network in partnership with Rogers TV. Ms. McCallion – who has come under sharp scrutiny in recent months amid a judicial inquiry probing allegations of misconduct – has never faced this many opponents in a mayoral race, and acknowleged it has been years since she participated in an on-air debate.

In small groups, candidates discussed a host of issues facing the city, from taxation to public transit to the powers afforded to landowners.

Candidates spoke of a “leadership gap”; of a city rife with complacence and voter apathy; of Mississauga’s failure to develop a municipal identity. They outlined glaring gaps in public transit and walkability, and pointed to the city’s looming deficit.

“We are voting blindly over here,” candidate Peter Orphanos said, suggesting the Mayor has done little over the past four years to earn citizens’ votes. “The status quo … is not good enough.”

Andrew Seitz, who at 32 is the youngest candidate in the race, says the city desperately needs an influx of new ideas. “I don’t like what Mississauga has become. It’s that simple,” he said.

But Ms. McCallion, who is all but guaranteed another landslide victory on Oct. 25, appeared unfazed. She dismissed critical media coverage of Mississauga as the product of “jealous” Torontonians. Drawing upon her intimate knowledge of council’s operations, she answered questions easily – frequently speaking past her allotted time to earn warning bells – and enthused at the end about an “exciting” race.

“I will continue as I have in the past to put Mississauga first,” Ms. McCallion said, citing the city’s strategic plan as a sign that Mississauga is on the right track.

She also trumpeted the need for a council that will “co-operate” on key priorities – a suggestion some viewed as a thinly veiled dig at the seven councillors who challenged the Mayor’s authority by voting for the inquiry.

“She’s saying, elect people who will do what she wants them to do,” asserted candidate and former Mississauga councillor Dave Cook, calling leadership “the single most important issue” of the campaign.

In her own platform, Ms. McCallion highlighted a number of priorities, including improved public transit, job creation and the development of a large sports stadium.

Last night’s debate was a novel event for many Mississaugans, as Ms. McCallion historically eschews formal campaigning while sailing to majority wins.

Tom Urbaniak, author of Her Worship: Hazel McCallion and the Development of Mississauga, says while the Mayor often attends all-candidates meetings, it may have been decades since she faced a traditional televised debate.

“To my knowledge, the back-and-forth format has not been used since the 1982 election [when former mayor Ron Searle] came out of retirement to challenge the Mayor,” Mr. Urbaniak said. Interestingly, that was the same year Ms. McCallion was embroiled in a conflict-of-interest controversy, not unlike the scrutiny she now faces at the inquiry, which resumes in November.

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