Tensions ran high as six of the 17 Mississauga mayoral candidates engaged in a debate at UTM on Tuesday, October 5. MIRANET (the Mississauga Residents’ Association Network) sponsored the debate.
The organization had extended the invitation to all the candidates, but only a few chose to accept MIRANET’s rules. In attendance were Ram Selvarajah, Peter Orphanos, George Winter, Dave Cook, Andrew Seitz, and the incumbent Hazel McCallion.
The debate opened with a quote from Christopher Hume, a columnist for the Toronto Star.
“Mississauga remains an abjectly car-dependent community that faces an uncertain future. … Not that most Mississaugians give a damn; only about one-quarter of voters bothered to cast a ballot in the last election,” Hume had written in September. “The lack of public discussion and opposition, the infrequent exchange of ideas, and the overwhelming sense of complacency do not bode well for Mississauga.”
Candidates were asked to respond to the criticism and elaborate on their vision to change to the city’s image.
Responses focussed on the need for improved public transit, environmentally friendly development of the downtown core, and allocation of tax money. From the start, one shared intention was clear from five of the candidates: take down the incumbent.
Mayor Hazel McCallion has served as Mississauga’s mayor since 1978, often winning more than 90% of the vote. The other 16 candidates are fighting to win votes against the very popular McCallion.
In their responses to the first question, quite a few jabs were taken at McCallion. Selvarajah sardonically remarked, “What is Mississauga’s identity? A mayor with a bobblehead figurine, and a bottle of wine named after her.”
“I asked some citizens if they could name one thing that Hazel has done in the last four years to deserve their vote,” said Orphanos. “Not one person could tell me anything. We are voting blindly.”
In retaliation, McCallion said, “I will put Mississauga first, just as I have done in the past.”
Of particular interest to UTM students present at the debate was the issue of efficient and affordable transit. Gilbert Cassar, UTMSU VP Internal, took advantage of the question period and asked the candidates how they plan to improve bus routes and fare for university students.
Winter suggested that transit routes need to be planned on a grid pattern. Orphanos declared that if elected mayor, transit would be free for students. Cook stated that it is more reasonable to implement a reduced fair for students. McCallion added that she would add a rapid light rail transit down Hurontario Street that will run from Port Credit to Brampton.
The debate also touched on accessible off-campus housing for students. The city has strict rules on boarding houses that limit options for residency.
In their closing statements, all five opponents appealled to citizens to choose an alternative mayor.
“Popularity must never trump popularity and accountability,” said Orphanos.
“I decided that Mississauga could not undergo another election without a debate,” said Winter. “Mark your ‘X’ for a new vote on the ballot.”
McCallion promised to continue with the financial success that Canada’s sixth largest city has seen over the last 32 years.
When asked if she was nervous about the upcoming election, McCallion responded, “No! I’m confident that I’ve served the people well. You don’t get elected for
11 consecutive terms unless you do the job well.”
Mo Jagne, a second-year student, said, “I wanted to come out and see firsthand how politics are done in Mississauga. It’s interesting that Mayor McCallion has [acquired] so many opponents with time!”
The other 11 candidates not present at the debate are now claiming that they were purposely excluded. However, MIRANET stated that they either missed the deadline or rejected the debate regulations. Rules included abiding by time allotment, civil behaviour, and refraining from personally attacks on participants.
Voting day is Saturday, October 25. Rogers Television will broadcast the debate on Monday, October 11 and Thursday, October 23.