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Mississauga’s Mayor ‘Hurricane’ Hazel Readies Her Exit

October 28, 2014
By

After almost four decades
Mississauga, Toronto’s upstart neighbor, is emerging from under
the eye of “Hurricane Hazel.”

Mayor Hazel McCallion, 93, stepping back from politics
after 12 terms in office, earned that moniker by overseeing the
city’s transformation into one of Canada’s largest
municipalities. While Toronto has sometimes attracted mockery
thanks to the crack-smoking antics of mayor Rob Ford,
Mississauga has exploded from a suburb of fields and farms into
the country’s sixth-largest city with a AAA credit rating.

“When I was elected mayor in 1978, where we sit right now,
all these buildings were farmland, cows and horses grazed out
front,” McCallion said from behind a massive wooden desk heavy
with paperwork and knick-knacks. “We began as a bedroom
community of Toronto in which people went out in the morning and
came home at night. We’ve reversed that.”

Her desk-side window now overlooks a downtown core filled
with office buildings and a city with a population of about
750,000 that’s home to the Canadian head offices of dozens of
Fortune 500 companies including General Electric Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

“We went after international investment,” McCallion said
in an interview in her office at City Hall. “We’re considered a
pharmaceutical center, and we’re very diverse.”

Train Derailment

The city and McCallion have been more or less synonymous
since 1979, when the then first-term mayor led an evacuation of
some 200,000 people away from a train derailment.

The event was transformational, cementing McCallion’s
reputation as both the mother figure and savior of Mississauga,
said Tom Urbaniak, an associate professor at Cape Breton
University in Sydney, Nova Scotia who wrote a book on the
history of Mississauga and McCallion.

“She’s lived and breathed the position of mayor for 36
years,” Urbaniak, author of 2009’s “Her Worship,” said in a
phone interview. “To her there’s no difference between her
personal life and her life as mayor. That work has sustained and
propelled her.”

Today’s election in Mississauga will be the first in 36
years not to have McCallion’s name on the ballot. Bonnie
Crombie, a former Member of Parliament and city councilor for
Mississauga who has received McCallion’s endorsement, and Steve
Mahoney, a cabinet minister in the government of former Prime
Minister Jean Chretien, are the frontrunners.

AAA Rating

Nicknamed after the deadly 1954 storm, McCallion has held
one of the longest mayoral tenures in the world.

“There may be other mayors who have served longer than
McCallion but none are from large cities,” Tann vom Hove, a
senior fellow with the nonprofit City Mayors Foundation, said in
an e-mail from London.

The city eliminated its debt during her tenure and had been
debt-free for more than 30 years — until last year when it
raised C$50 million ($45 million) to pay for infrastructure
improvements such as replacing streetlights with LEDs.

Mississauga still has a shortfall of almost C$1 billion in
capital project needs from 2014 to 2023 that can’t be funded
under the existing budget, and additional funds will need to be
borrowed, according to city documents.

Standard Poor’s in September affirmed the city’s AAA
credit rating with a stable outlook. Mississauga’s debt burden
is forecast to rise to C$168 million by the end of 2016, a
manageable figure, the ratings firm said.

Diverse Economy

“Mississauga has what we view as a strong and diverse
economy, and we do not expect that it will weaken materially in
the medium term,” analysts Adam Gillespie and Bhavini Patel
said in the report.

McCallion says she doesn’t regret going into debt at the
end of her tenure, as she had known the city would eventually
need to borrow to pay for improvements. She does regret not
coming up with a stronger transit system and not building a
convention center.

Richard Leblanc, an associate professor at York University
in Toronto, said McCallion was in power for too long and
municipalities need term limits.

“It blocks renewal and fresh thinking,” he said by phone.
“Having someone as the leader for almost 40 years is a failure
of governance.”

McCallion’s pragmatism is ultimately what led her to
declare this her last term, Urbaniak said. She was weakened
after she beat a conflict of interest complaint in 2013 related
to her son’s development company.

“She can read the public better than any politician,” he
said. “She sensed, while there’s great respect for her as an
icon, that there was growing fatigue.”

For her part, McCallion said she is proud of how
Mississauga has developed in her time and her role as an
inspiration for women.

“A lot of women across Canada said I inspired them to
enter politics. I feel very satisfied with that,” she said. “I
wouldn’t say I’m a role model. I leave that up to others to
determine.”

To contact the reporter on this story:
Eric Lam in Toronto at
elam87@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Lynn Thomasson at
lthomasson@bloomberg.net
Steven Frank, Carlos Caminada

Article source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-10-27/mississauga-s-mayor-hurricane-hazel-readies-her-exit.html

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