As an American, my understanding of Canadian politics is fairly limited. Until yesterday, the only mayor in Canada I could name is Rob Ford, and I doubt that that’s the top association most Canadians would want me to have of their system.
Fortunately, to counter that, I’ve just learned about Hazel McCallion, the mayor of Mississauga in Ontario, Canada. With a long tenure of competence and success, here are eight reasons why she’s so fascinating:
1. Her Age
Let’s just get this out of the way: McCallion is 93. Yes, 93. At an age when most people start to think about retirement, McCallion decided instead to run for mayor. Now, 35 years later, McCallion still occupies the mayoral seat, remaining highly involved in all aspects of municipal government.
2. She Doesn’t Bother to Campaign
McCallion is so adored by her constituents that she doesn’t even bother conducting a campaign most of the time. Indeed, McCallion has won by landslide margins in each of her 11 reelections. In the most recent election, despite competing against a field of 16 candidates, McCallion still earned 76% of the vote. Most impressively, when supporters offer her campaign donations, McCallion redirects them to contribute the money to a worthy charity instead.
3. Her Leadership is Strong, Even in Difficult Times
Within a year of taking office, McCallion faced a massive disaster: a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in the city limits, causing explosions to erupt and deadly gas to fill the air. Though a prompt evacuation of more than 200,000 residents seemed impossible – no evacuation of that size had occurred in Canada previously – McCallion oversaw an orderly process that moved her citizens to safety. Her successful leadership in this trying time earned her a lot of trust.
4. She Got Hit by a Truck and It Was No Big Deal
I first learned of McCallion through the following internet meme, and I’m sure you’ll understand why I immediately became curious to learn more about her:
What a sense of humor! If that truck were smart, it would have known better than to have gone up against someone so strong and in charge that her citizens call her “Hurricane Hazel.”
5. She Used to Play Professional Hockey
Before pursuing politics, McCallion was a member of a professional women’s hockey league in Montreal. However, don’t assume she gave up Canada’s national pastime when she got older. As this televised interview shows, McCallion still likes to strap on her skates, get in a rink and slap a hockey puck around:
6. She’s Fiscally Responsible
Mississauga, unlike most cities, is entirely debt free. In fact, she’s managed to save up $700 million in reserves, leaving Mississauga in a secure situation financially. Considering that McCallion’s constituents are overwhelmingly impressed with her work, she’s obviously not penny-pinching or cutting programs that the city needs just to save a buck. It probably doesn’t hurt that in 1991 she was the first mayor to have the public participate in creating the budget so that everyone could feel accountable for how taxes were spent.
7. She Has No Party Affiliation
Despite being popular enough that parties try to claim her as one of their own, McCallion is unaffiliated politically, declaring herself an independent. This freedom has allowed her to run Mississauga as she sees fit, rather than worrying about the positions of a national party.
8. She Has Other Interests
Once McCallion’s current term runs out at the end of the year, she says she will not run for re-election. “I have so many things that I want to do, but I can’t because I’m too busy being mayor,” she told the press. While she still seems sharp and healthy enough to continue in the role, it’s hard to blame her for making a graceful exit after devoting more than 30 years of service to the city of Mississauga.
That’s not to say that McCallion plans to take it easy. Next up on her plate is promoting charities she admires, working on a book about her life and organizing family photos taken by her late husband. Hopefully, she’ll also also have a chance to fulfill her hilarious regret that she has never appeared in a music video.
Wow. How do we get a mayor like McCallion down here in the United States? She’s a proper inspiration!
Photo Credit: Joey Coleman