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Oct. 25, 1989 Mississauga News - Editorial - Page - 7
Humane concerns only muddle issue
By Albert Atkins
It was the day democracy failed to move an autocratic Mayor Hazel McCallion and her subservient city council to rid themselves of their small-town mentality and bravely confront the problems of a modern metropolis.
If the real purpose of a council meeting is to enable a concerned public to persuade their elected officials to free themselves from a sterile attachment to bloodless logic and cold technicalities in the interest of a higher public good, the October 23 meeting must be branded a failure.
At that meeting the earnest pleas of an aroused citizenry were given ample hearing before being buried in a blizzard of innuendoes, half-truths and spurious reasoning. Their cause was then turned down by a nearly unanimous vote of council members who pressed upon all present that they acted in good faith, independently of any overriding influence. Really?
Petition after petition was presented by able speakers. Each asked council to reconsider its harsh position regarding Mrs. Lois Stevens and her renowned cat shelter located on City-owned park land. Each urged, with passionate dignity, a stay of execution of the "must vacate" order thrust upon Mrs. Stevens and her husband, Brian, when it was revealed that their City-owned home of 10 years serves as a much-praised but allegedly illegal shelter for sick and homeless cats. (A catrageous crime in hard-hearted Mississauga.)
It was a nice, neat exercise in democratic procedure. That's all it was, an exercise. The numerous petitioners and their supporters, who packed the council chamber, might as well have stayed at home, watching Mayor Hazel on TV, steering her troubled ship of municipal state round the rocky shoals of dissent.
With the brilliant exception of Councillors David Culham (Ward 6) and Ted Southorn (Ward 9) – the only human beings on the council who appear to be living in this century – it was obvious from the start that the limp sails of a majority on the council were pre-set in a direction from which no change of course could be allowed.
Except for Culham, Southorn, and Ward 5 councillor Frank McKechnie (absent on vacation), most members of council seemed almost hostile to the idea of lending serious thought to the humane aspects of the issue before them; an issue which has grown from a simple exercise in personal spite to a whopping embarrassment to Mississauga.
How strenuously they expended their talents in the service of their dry legal and technical anxieties! How quickly they switched from arguing that the Stevens home must be demolished (for unclear reasons) to insisting that the tenants failed to live up to their lease agreement in every small detail – a lease which itself cannot escape the suspicion of legal fragility! When such contentions received a cold reception from the audience, members of the council justified themselves by beating upon the drum of official responsibility. In effect they pleaded that they were forced by duty to uphold the bylaws and so forth, at whatever cost; that they were not obliged to defer to human values.
I am familiar with such fancy manoeuvring. It is usually done by people who have already made up their minds, in secret, and who scratch around in advance of taking an action, digging up every argument that will justify what has previously been settled behind closed doors.
As for Mayor McCallion, while her strained colleagues endeavored to pull the wool over the public's eyes, she slyly belittled Councillor Culham, saying he was only "beating around the bush" when his intelligent and incisive questioning of City staffers concerning their role in this shameful farce made them squirm. With remarkable absence of grace she also reminded scheduled guest speakers from Toronto that their own city council would never allow outsiders to make a presentation as they were being permitted to do in Mississauga. Meanwhile, Councillor Frank Dale was grinning approvingly.
Chopped liver, anyone?
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