Not any more

Hazel McCallion to participate in upcoming Mississauga mayoral debate

In Canada on October 5, 2010 at 17:48

Mississauga’s mayoral candidates will sit down for a debate Tuesday evening, around the halfway point of the city’s most closely-watched election in decades.

While lively debates and competitive campaigns are the norm in most cities—the leading candidates for Toronto mayor, for example, will have squared off more than 100 times by election day—in Mississauga, previous elections have tended to be unremarkable, with veteran Mayor Hazel McCallion taking more than 90 per cent of the vote.

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In fact, Ms. McCallion doesn’t run a campaign or release a platform.

This time, however, things are different. A record 16 candidates have lined up to challenge the 89-year-old mayor, who has seen her grip on city council loosen over the last four years, with councillors voting against her on key votes. An ongoing judicial inquiry has also heard allegations she put herself into a conflict-of-interest situation by backing a hotel development in which her son had a large financial stake.

While no one expects Ms. McCallion to lose the October 25 vote, the sheer fact that so many candidates are willing to openly challenge her, that a city-wide organization has organized a sophisticated televised debate and that Ms. McCallion is fighting the election, is a change from the norm for Mississauga, said Tom Urbaniak, a political scientist at Cape Breton University and expert on Mississauga politics.

And the stakes for the octogenarian mayor are high.

“If she wins only 60 or 70 per cent, it will be seen as a sign that there’s a growing discontent in the city,” he said. “That will be seen as a complete reversal of momentum.”

The debate is also part of a broader shift that has seen the suburban municipality increasingly dealing with big-city issues.

Even Ms. McCallion’s platform—the first she has released since the 1980s—deals largely with urban issues: the need for improved public transit, better provincial funding for local social services and a looming budget deficit that could force the debt-free city to borrow money for the first time since the late ’70s.

Of the candidates vying to unseat Ms. McCallion, who has run city hall since 1978, only two—former city councillor Dave Cook and ex-school board trustee George Winter—have held elected office. The others are a broad cross-section of Mississaugans, including a warehouse worker, a provincial civil servant and the chair of the local Sierra Club.

The debate begins at 7 p.m. at the University of Toronto Mississauga campus. It will be taped by Rogers TV for broadcast next Monday at 3 p.m. and 11 p.m. It will be re-broadcast the Saturday before the election at 3 p.m.

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