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Scanned or retyped copy, if there are errors, please e-mail me with corrections:
Nov. 1,  1989   Mississauga News  -  Editorial   Page - ?

A question for electorate to ponder

by Albert Atkins

Whichever side you choose in the thorny Mississauga vs. Stevens fiasco, you can't ignore that something is painfully wrong with the way our city is being run these days.

Mayor Hazel McCallion, Mississauga's eternal chief magistrate, likes to remind people that her administration is democratic.  She has done so fairly often.  Whether you agree with her depends on your definition of "democratic."

In most Canadian communities, "democratic" means wide-open debate at council meetings.  It means freely blasting elected officials for perceived shortcomings.  It means plain talk.  It's noisy.  Tempers flare and good order suffers.  Nevertheless, it's healthy, it's fun and somehow it works: Democracy in action.

Mississauga council meetings aren't like that.  They are prim, proper, tightly controlled.  They resemble stage scripts acted out as dull drama, with a predictable climax.  "Democratic," at these gatherings, means that criticism of elected city officials is taboo.  (You are supposed to do that in their private chambers.)  It means tactful, circumspect speech.  It means beating around the bush to avoid offending anyone on the council; Mayor McCallion in particular.

(When ruffled, Mayor Hazel seldom hesitates to reward candidly expressed but irksome questions, opinions and dissent with her own brand of sharply worded derision and scorn.)

At Mississauga council meetings all the correct formulas for democratic procedure are honored.  These are fulfilled in the letter, if not the spirit, of democratic government.  The mayor and her colleagues listen, or appear to listen, to the voice of the people.  They sit patiently through one presentation after another, for hours. They treat the speakers, nearly always, with correct though brittle courtesy.  Yet it would be presumptuous to suggest that our city's governing body actually LISTENS to the people - with the heart as well as the ear - or appears to be influenced or moved by their concerns, petitions and points of view.

Lately you get the impression that most members of our city's government enter the council chamber with their minds already made up; that neither carefully prepared petitions nor passionate entreaties from the public can effect a change.  You get the impression that the petitioners  are attempting to budge a pile of mud; that their efforts are doomed from the start.  Yet, afterward, nobody can factually assert that a "democratic" hearing by the council was denied.  A hearing was requested; a hearing was granted.  What more should anyone expect?

That's how it's been and that's how it was at the October 23 meeting, which dealt with the now-famous Mississauga vs. Stevens issue.  Nothing happened there to dispel the growing public awareness that the Stevens family, their cat sanctuary, and the fact that the City has been virtually persecuting this humane couple, are side issues in a much larger question: What's really going on at city hall?

The Stevens issue, spotlights the curious way city hall handles an alleged problem involving a ward councillor and some of  his constituents.  As Ward 6 councillor David Culham said at the last council meeting, "If it can happen to me, it can happen to you," referring to his being bypassed by Mayor Hazel and City staff people in the Stevens affair.

From where I sit, it is not an encouraging portent for the future of Mississauga.  Orders were given to City staffers and action was taken against the Stevens family without the prior knowledge of Councillor Culham.  "Why wasn't I informed that there was a problem? " he asks.  No one will tell him.  Even the customarily loquacious Mayor Hazel remains silent about this, although she seldom passes up an opportunity to snipe at Culham ever since he stuck his nose into what, after all, is his own turf, the business of Ward 6.

This is only one of several emerging aspects of Mississauga's present administration which call for close scrutiny by the electorate.

It will make a difference!
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