McCallion shares her love of community building
By Jenn Watt
Published July 25, 2017
Building a thriving community is more about what the individuals within that community are willing to commit than what the government can do, Hazel McCallion told a gathering at Abbey North on Cranberry Lake on July 20.
The former mayor of Mississauga spoke for about 10 minutes and then entertained another 40 minutes of questions, which ranged from the importance of proper planning to her secret to living a long, healthy life.
Famously the longest serving mayor of Mississauga at 36 years, McCallion, now 96, is still incredibly engaged, becoming chancellor of Sheridan College last year and advising the University of Toronto among other things.
She is on the board of Revera seniors homes, where they call her the CEO – chief elder officer.
McCallion said she’s stayed active throughout life.
“I love to be active. I do my own housework. I do my own gardening,” she said.
Her friend and former city manager of Mississauga David O’Brien sat next to the former mayor during the talk.
He told the audience that when he picked her up for her trip to the Highlands she was cleaning her swimming pool.
McCallion had the stage presence of a mayor.
Seated in a leather living-room chair, she frequently leaned forward, hand on knee, engaged in conversation.
She grew up in Quebec and entered the job market as a teenager in the 1940s.
“I graduated in Grade 11, took a business course in Montreal and started working. Simple as that,” she said.
Her first job paid her $12 a week, which she said was mostly taken up by the cost of transportation to work and board, with $2 a week left over for savings.
Her career started with a company that built the world’s first synthetic rubber plant in 1942 and from there she worked in the energy sector.
She first ran for government in Streetsville in the early 1960s, winning her first election in 1968. When Streetsville became part of the city of Mississauga, she ran for that council, becoming a councillor first and then mayor in 1978.
O’Brien told the audience that while he and McCallion were working for Mississauga, it was the fastest growing city in Canada.
He said business people and developers frequently came to speak to the mayor.
“Little did they know that the mayor they were speaking to probably knew more about business than they did,” he said.
Being a woman in politics did present challenges, McCallion said, taking an audience question.
Women have to work harder and their mistakes are “highlighted” when a man’s would have been ignored, she said.
However, her supporters were frequently men and she found women could present the biggest “deterrent” to other women’s success.
“I say to women, get behind women. Support women for positions in politics and stop licking stamps and sealing envelopes for men,” she said.
McCallion’s politics are well known to be fiscally conservative and during her talk, she reiterated that government should support the work of people rather than being the lead player in development.
“It’s when people take charge of a community and forget about government [that things get done], because if government does anything, it’s the most inefficient way of doing it,” she told the audience on Thursday.
“When I look back on the building of the great city of Mississauga, yes, we raised a lot of money through development charges, etc., but when I think of the facilities we’ve got I think of the major, major contribution made by members of the community.”
In politics, she followed her own principles and partially for that reason she couldn’t have run for provincial or federal office, she said.
“I would wear out the carpet at either [the] federal house or the provincial crossing [the floor]. If legislation came up that I felt was good for the people, I’d vote for it. Well, you can’t be in a party and go against the party policy,” she said.
The local level is where the community is built, she said.
“I’m so blessed that I made that decision to stay at the local level and see what you can do for people: building the facilities, the libraries, the arenas, the baseball fields. All the wonderful things you can do for people. ... You decide that,” she said.
Funds raised from McCallion’s talk went to support programming at Abbey Gardens. Earlier in the day, she toured the facility and spoke glowingly about the work the organization is doing in converting a gravel pit into a viable environmental centre and business hub.
O’Brien is a member of the Abbey Gardens board and brought McCallion to his place in the Highlands for a fishing excursion.