Thirty-three years. Twelve consecutive terms. That is the extent of the ongoing reign of Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion, and an uncontested mayoral blitzkrieg like that must beg the question: just how did she do it, and can it be done again?
It’s easy to wrap the argument up and blame her ancient incumbency on poor opposition, apathetic voters and good old-fashioned citizen loyalty, but I think it comes down to her core ideologies as a politician. She feels that a city should be run like a business, with careful management of finances. Additionally, much like a business, she says a city should be marketed, its value shown off to the country at large in an effort to gain lasting appeal.
This is the dividing line between a successful mayor and a political activist, which most other mayoral candidates seem to be. Take Hamilton’s very own mayor, Bob Bratina, for example. He ran a small campaign centered on his trustworthiness and family values, yearning to service the most decrepit neighbourhoods of the Steel City. I think these are admirable, respectable qualities in a leader, but they are the same qualities you see in every candidate, in every election, every few years.
Hazel stands out from the crowd because she barely campaigns, she maintains a no-nonsense aura in her political demeanor and from the few times I have personally met her, comes off as a legitimately likeable human being who would check on me if I was keeling over in a busy intersection. It is that very likeability that makes it hard to admit this: it is time for her mayoralty to end.
There is no doubt in my mind that she could go for a thirteenth, fourteenth or even twentieth consecutive term if she made a play for it, and it would hurt the GTA in the long run. The entire thought process behind having fixed terms and frequent elections is to have a frequent influx of new ideas and reevaluation of incumbent leaders. Mississauga residents have gotten to a point of no return, so content with a stable, unaggressive leader that they are certain to maintain a level of sameness, at the expense of lasting progress and young ideas.
They are voting for Hazel for the sake of legacy, for maintaining the title of one of the longest serving elected political leaders in history. There’s no clearer indication to me that this is a problem than the mere fact that in the face of a very clear conflict of interest, where Hazel allegedly threw around her mayoral clout to put millions of dollars into her contractor son’s pocket, she still maintains the same unchallenged level of popularity that she’d had for three decades.
She is standing in the way of less popular but completely legitimate candidates who can take the steps needed to actually worry about their popularity and make the changes that citizens want. She is setting an ugly standard for future mayors across the entirety of Southern Ontario, one of widespread blind support.
Look no further than Toronto to see an example of the opposite end of this spectrum. Rob Ford is about as unpopular as mayors get, so he gets challenged early and often on many of his initiatives. His TTC plan was shut down in what seemed like mere minutes, but isn’t that a good thing? A plan that Toronto probably couldn’t shoulder in the long run was turned down because Ford was not revered as a god walking among us, unlike Hazel. An unpopular mayor needs to fight for his or her ideas, while a popular one will let protests be drowned in the cheers of the masses.
This is not a condemnation of McCallion, but a call for citizens to carefully criticize their voting thought processes, and not vote with their hearts. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved weathering the storm that was Hurricane Hazel, but all natural disasters have to end eventually, before they do rampant, irreparable damage.