Hazel McCallion didn’t want to talk about her recent scolding during an ongoing inquiry into conflict-of-interest allegations. That was just as well, since none of the Mississaugans packed eight rows deep to see their mayor seemed to be interested.
They weren’t there to demand accountability — they were there for the giant bun.
Mississauga’s Square One mall was the site of a fawning bash on Saturday that was meant to serve as both an early celebration of McCallion’s 90th birthday, actually on Feb. 14, and Chinese New Year, which falls on Feb. 3.
Sporting the chain of office and tapping her feet jauntily, McCallion occupied the seat of honour as men in Chinese dragon costumes cavorted and bowed before her and an opera singer flown in from Hong Kong led the crowd in “Happy Birthday.”
In place of a cake, McCallion sliced into a massive Chinese bun symbolizing longevity. One presenter at the event, paid for by Square One, called her “the most popular mayor in the whole wide world.”
The festivities were a significant departure from the recent proceedings of a judicial inquiry into McCallion’s promotion of a land deal brokered by her son that would have brought a convention centre-hotel development to downtown Mississauga. In a written submission released Thursday, city lawyer Clifford Lax blasted her involvement “inappropriate” and “unbecoming of an elected official.”
McCallion refused to comment on Lax’s submission after the celebration. “You can’t get it out of me,” she responded to repeated questioning.
But in comments to the crowd, McCallion referred obliquely to the controversy.
“It’s my prayer that in spite of the failure of us getting a convention centre — which I tried so hard to get, and I’ve taken a lot of flak because of it — I want you to know that we’re going to work hard to get (one) in the city core.”
Asked whether events like Saturday’s bash prove that dirt has trouble sticking to the matriarch of Mississauga, former councillor Carolyn Parrish, who was defeated in last October’s election after spearheading the push for an inquiry into the land deal, insists that McCallion’s popularity is eroding.
But, she said, “Some of the community groups have worshipped Hazel’s shrine for so long, they can’t stop now…. there will always people who say, ‘Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter what happened, to me she’s the queen.’”
Elected to her twelfth term in October, McCallion has been serving as Mississauga’s mayor for over a third of a century, often with overwhelming support.
Fissures only began to appear in the McCallion monolith in 2009, when Parrish and a group of breakaway councillors successfully pushed for a conflict-of-interest inquiry. Yet in October, McCallion was elected with 76 per cent of the vote.
Justice Douglas Cunningham, head of the inquiry, will announce his findings in the coming weeks.