Her brazen brand of crystal-clear leadership, something which is not seen nearly as frequently as one would expect in the highest positions of political power, was valuable and rare. She is stubborn, willful and relentless in defence of her territory and her territory is now the City of Mississauga. She is so synonymous with the city she leads that it is difficult to determine where Hazel ends and Mississauga begins. Or is it where Mississauga ends and Hazel begins? The woman is tiny but her legend is titanic.
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So, how did the mayor become bigger than Mississauga? By overcoming incredible odds over and over again through what appears to be sheer force of will.
McCallion has incredible personal stamina and energy, as evidenced by the fact she is a big city mayor at her advanced age. She can take the political temperature of a room like no one else. Her preparation skills, depth of knowledge and memory are remarkable, so she rarely gets surprised by anything. She has a remarkable ability to get ahead of issues, recognizing potential problems and avoiding them in infancy.
Many years ago when some Mississauga councillors wanted their own constituency offices, executive assistants and large communications budgets, it was the mayor who fiercely opposed them, saving untold grief and embarrassing headlines down the line. Her innate frugality and tendency to never take anything at face value, especially if it will cost the municipality more money, has proven invaluable. That way they take some ownership.
Making the community a partner in any project vastly improves its chances of success. She is ruthless when she needs to be. She has cut innumerable councillors, ones she considered not to be team players, out of the municipal herd and set them up for slaughter at the polls. Yet when the mayor of Mississauga puts out the word that she wants someone off council Larry Taylor, Ken Dear and more recently Carolyn Parrish and Carmen Corbasson the voters make her wishes come true.
She is also the rare mayor who has the power to influence provincial politics. She was a bitter enemy of the Mike Harris provincial government after it downloaded unexpected costs to lower-tier municipalities and her campaign against the policy helped unseat the Tories. McCallion was blessed to become mayor of a growing edge city, complete with waterfront, numerous series highways and an airport, just as it was about to burst into bloom in the late s. That unfettered atmosphere has made it much easier to construct and maintain the legend.
Mississauga mayoral rivals gang up on McCallion
But there is no shortage of contradictions when it comes to McCallion. She continues to trade off the image of the small-town mayor of Streetsville, where she served for just three years. Even her strongest supporters often wince when asked about her public speaking, but in almost the same breath, they will tell you what a great communicator she is. But McCallion and her council voted to take the gamble.
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But by taking part in debate over the release of land, McCallion made a serious mistake. Some of that land was hers. In , a judge found that she had committed a "substantial error in judgment" in failing to declare a conflict of interest during council debate over future land releases.
Yet later that year, she was re-elected with 71 per cent of the vote. The people had spoken.
Thirty years later, Mississauga had no Louvre, or even a commanding town square. It had Square One, suburbs, and a nice waterfront. Taylor, now a real estate broker, remains frustrated about the city that never was. While she had no specific vision for the city, she wanted to leave her imprint on its downtown, and insisted on building landmarks among the parking lots. Urbaniak writes in his book that between and , Mississauga did not pursue any designations under the Ontario Heritage Act unless the owner of the property agreed.
Before the Avro Arrow hanger was torn down in , she tried to get Ottawa to save it. As with the battle for Streetsville, the effort failed. But McCallion was perceived as being on the right side. McCallion returned to work and kept herself busy. But the post-millennium era has been difficult.
Her Worship: Hazel McCallion and the Development of Mississauga
In , her developer son Peter wanted a landmark of his own, a hotel complex near city hall. His mother came along for meetings with a potential operator and did a good deal more to grease the wheels, according to evidence presented in the current inquiry. But she said she was not there to influence anything other than the public good. Justice Douglas Cunningham will decide that.
His inquiry report is expected within weeks. Perhaps bruised by the negative turn of media coverage lately, McCallion declined to be interviewed on the eve of her 90th birthday. The zero-tax-increase years are long over. The reserve fund from the boom years is running dry. The infrastructure is aging, and there is little land left to develop. McCallion has acknowledged the city is facing hard times and things need to change.
When she turned 88, she told the Star her biggest regret has been lack of transit planning. This is her last term in office.
Mississauga’s people will be her lasting legacy: Hazel McCallion | Toronto Sun
The city she built will soon be for others to look after. McCallion, always a good Christian, will probably be praying for them. Copyright owned or licensed by Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved.
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