A Plethora of Candidates Look To Replace Longest Serving Mississauga Councillor


Published September 14, 2018 at 5:35 pm


Cooksville has been referred to as “that place you drive past on your way to Port Credit,” and while that description may irk some people, it’s not that far off.

From first glance, the intersection of Hurontario and Dundas, also known locally to some as “5 and 10:, doesn’t look that impressive, save for a recently renovated parkette at the southeast corner.

But appearances can be deceiving at times. Toronto author Shawn Micallef led a Jane’s Walk last year to showcase the neighbourhood, aka “the real downtown of Mississauga,” and turns out Cooksville is a bit of a food mecca with various shops and food vendors from various corners of the world, if you know where to look.

Bordered by Burnhamthorpe Road the north, the QEW to the south, Cawthra Road and the CN rail line to the east and the Credit River to the west, Ward 7 almost resembles a smaller version of the US state of Texas.

The ward may look tiny in geographical terms but it is actually Mississauga’s most populated; with over 80,000 residents, projections based on the 2016 census show Ward 7 going to 113,300 people by the year 2031.

While there is life beyond the ward just ‘being a place to pass through, such as the growing food scene in the area, it still faces many challenges going forward according to the outgoing councillor.

“In my opinion, growth and density, the revitalization of Cooksville, and the liveable and sustainable city are the challenges and opportunities of the city and Ward 7 going forward,” Coun. Nando Iannicca said in his final newsletter to residents, adding that with the increasing population, the next council may have to seriously consider dividing up Ward 7 to create a ‘downtown ward’ north of the CN rail line.

But as Iannicca rides off into the sunset after three decades on council (or not, as he could be appointed Peel Regional Chair if he put his name forward), the 12 other candidates looking to replace him may have different ideas or in mind as the next Ward 7 councillor.

“I see my role as councillor more than just coming in with what I want to do; it’s more about educating the residents on what existing services there are, and listening to their concerns,” says Leeann Cole, a registered nurse with two children and a former OPP officer who now runs her own business coaching police officer applicants.

Cole, 43, is running on a slogan of “Putting Families First,” saying it guides her ideas, whether it’s mental health issues for children or the LRT being crucial in helping families get home on time. She also believes that Cooksville can be beautified by using examples from other parts of Mississauga, such as Streetsville or the strip plaza at Hurontario and Eglinton.

For Dipika Damerla, it was a combination of encouragement from residents asking her to run again after losing in the June provincial election, and her desire to work on various projects that were in the realm of municipal government that spurred her to run for council.

“Things like the BIA in Cooksville and community gardens I found I really couldn’t work on because I was at Queen’s Park,” said the former MPP for Mississauga East-Cooksville and cabinet minister in the previous Liberal government.

Her answers to a variety of questions, such as growth and development, the Cooksville Park and how she would communicate better with constituents were well polished and rehearsed, as one expected from someone who is well versed in the field of politics.

“Mississauga is growing fast, and any new growth and development should take place in the designated growth areas (where jobs, and young people can be attracted to) while established neighbourhoods should be left alone.”

“I always return calls. In my seven years as MPP I had 70 town halls and meet and greets, knocked on 15,000 doors in between elections; I will show up and listen.” Damerla added that she would not have been in favour of “kicking out” or having to force people to leave their homes just so the city could build a park.

Asked if she thought voters had “Liberal fatigue” after the provincial election, Damerla said partisanship should not ‘creep in’ to municipal politics and is asking people to support her based on her vision. “When I was MPP, I helped whoever came through my office door, no matter which party they supported,” she said.

Ward 7 candidate Sam Jisri speaking at his campaign launch event at Paramount Fine Foods (Crestlawn location)

Having connections with members from all parties is what Sam Jisri, who moved to Mississauga from Syria over two decades ago, says is an advantage when it comes to his candidacy, in addition to his background in humanitarian work as a former UN aid worker in refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan.

“I think my background in humanitarian work, helping newcomers settle in Mississauga and getting them on their feet is an asset needed as a politician,” Jisri said, adding that as a first time candidate he brings a fresh perspective on how to solve the myriad of issues Ward 7 faces, including everything from housing, economic development, transit and public safety.

“We need fresh blood on council and if I can continue the mission I started, I can help everyone else also.” Jisri is the Executive Director of SAV Canada and the president of the Syrian Community Centre, organizations which have helped settle 8,000 Syrian refugees since 2015 by helping integrate them with assistance from various government ministries.   

Jisri also outlined the priorities of his platform: leveraging small business development programs to support local businesses in Ward 7; fighting for affordable housing, specifically for seniors & single parents; prioritizing necessary infrastructure & transportation upgrades throughout the ward; protecting and promoting a safe community to live and work; and broadening the consultation on the funding and delivery of city services to all residents.

For some, the opening of a political position can inspire those of a younger generation to take that step to running for public office. Former Queens’ Park staffer Dawid Burzynski (pronounced ‘David’) decided that after working behind the scenes for an elected MPP, he wanted to serve the people himself. Burzynski is currently employed in a sales position with Rogers Communications.

“Ever since I registered as the second candidate in Ward 7, I’ve had a ton of emails from residents asking me about everything from street parking to public safety,” Burzynski said, adding that he wanted to be one of the three lowest spending councillors, address crime issues, and starting a BIA in Cooksville.

Still, another fresh face, Marco Camaioni, put his intentions out more bluntly, specifically on how long he wants to be a councillor should he get elected:

“With my 20 years of experience in the financial sector, I understand what it takes to work with members of city council and ward constituents to execute on existing projects and take on new exciting initiatives. I want to spend the next twenty years representing you and your concerns at City Hall, and support your vision throughout this next phase of growth.”

A member of the Celano Canadian Social Club, which aims to preserve Italian culture in Mississauga, Camaioni has a background in financial services and investment banking, most recently as a VP of Policy and Regulatory Risk Management at a large investment bank.

Camaioni said he would like to exercise fiscal responsibility, support youth sports and programs, support low income senior programs and prioritize development should he be elected as Ward 7 councillor.

“Mississauga and especially Ward 7 has seen significant growth and is projected to see even more growth with sizeable projects currently underway. Today, more than ever, our youth, seniors and all taxpayers need someone on council that understands how to manage taxpayer money in a fair and equitable manner,” the candidate said on his website.

Andrew Gassmann, who has 25 years of experience in the financial sector and is the president of the Cooksville-Munden Park homeowners association, was the first candidate registered to run in Ward 7 back on May 1. His family have been Cooksville residents since the 1960s.

“I want to serve; I was the first to register for the election across all of Mississauga. I did not wait until the final week to register as I am certain about my commitment. This isn’t just a job for me and I’m passionate about making our city better,” Gassmann said.

Gassmann said his priorities were to limit intensification to appropriate areas, holding the line on property taxes, improving community safety, better transit options, and reviewing how Peel Region operates in order to “ensure the best role for Mississauga”.

It’s not as bold as calling for the separation of Mississauga from Peel, but the language of making Peel work more for Mississauga is evidently clear.

Still another financial professional, Peter van Sluytman, who has an MBA and entrepreneurial experience in the mortgage brokerage industry, says he would be running his campaign primarily through social media because he believes people can be more easily reached through social networks, didn’t want to ‘fill landfills with ineffective pamphlets and signs’, and bother people with asking for campaign donations. “I think my message can get out at a minimal costs to taxpayers,” he said.

“We need to elect ethical, smart, committed, long-term thinkers to steward change. As councillor, I will use my financial acumen, strategic thinking, and hardworking nature to help manage Mississauga’s development.”

“While I appreciate the efforts of those before me, I will not be saddled with legacy ideas or philosophies; this city needs a fresh perspective. I want to work with others to make change happen in key areas (safety, housing, infrastructure),” van Sluytman continued.

The issues he raised as important include safety, particularly with safety concerning children from vehicular traffic, violent crime, wildlife and noise pollution. Affordable housing (the need to increase the stock) and infrastructure (to support the influx of new immigrant arrivals), and that the LRT implementation needs to be managed carefully.

Some candidates are a bit unconventional, such as Leslie Moss, a licensed Ontario security guard with a background in financial services who has styled himself as an anti-politician type; more specifically (in his own words) “the un-politician”.

“I’m not a politician; I have zero political affiliations with any party,” Moss said, citing a case he filed with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal alleging he was discriminated against by the city on what drives his beliefs and platform. He also says city hall should not be an ivory tower or belong to the 1 per cent, saying residents need more accessibility to city services from elected officials, and increased security and community safety.

Moss gave other promises centred on themes of equality, such as more access to justice, accepting virtually no donations and self financing his campaign, more protections for consumers (from payday loan businesses), and protecting non-unionized workers.

If elected, he promises to call for ongoing, forensic audits of council, an arms-length independent Integrity Commissioner, and review the need for city paid lawyers. But some of his platform moved beyond the realm of municipal government, such as lobbying the federal and provincial levels to address issues such as the Panama Papers, and the ‘Neo-Colonial’ status quo.

The remaining Ward 7 candidates, Louroz Mercader, Leslie Zurek-Silvestri, Maqbool Walji and Winston Harding, did not respond at the time of this writing, although Silvestri has been door knocking and canvassing neighbourhoods from regular social media postings.

Ward 7 candidates (left to right) Maqbool Walji, Leslie Silvestri and Louroz Mercader

Walji’s website needs some work, but also expressed on Facebook posts that he would fight development such as the one on the Piatto Restaurant site, saying it doesn’t make sense with the currently existing traffic conditions.

As for Mercader, besides his press release after registering on July 27 to run, he has not made much public statements about his policies, priorities as of yet, although he’s having his campaign launch on September 22, just one month before the election. He also sent several tweets about a year ago marking the countdown to the election, promising to ‘drain the hall’ (in reference to Mississauga city hall and Donald Trump’s use of the phrase “drain the swamp” in Washington DC).

Mercader recently was working with Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto, so he presumably has some knowledge on the latest urban development issues. However, even though he has run in Ward 7 for Catholic school trustee and councillor since 2003, for the last four years since the last municipal election, he was not seen at public meetings on projects such as Vision Cooksville or other condominium applications.

During election time, it was easier to identify Mercader as being the most credible opponent to Iannicca for those looking to unseat the longtime councillor. Now that it’s an open contest with 11 other people, it will be interesting to see if Mercader’s name recognition still has legs, or will some other candidate capitalize and win this coveted seat for Mississauga City Council.

The election takes place on October 22. 

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