At 91, retiring Mayor McCallion shows no sign of slowing down

October 25, 2012 - All News

After 34 years on the job, Hazel McCallion is in the home stretch — the last half of what she says will be her final term as mayor of Mississauga, the country’s sixth largest city.
At 91, McCallion has become a national celebrity and shows no signs of slowing down. The Star spoke with the mayor about the next two years, the fiscal challenge her city faces and an old friend who recently announced his resignation. And, whether this really will be her last term.
Q: Madam Mayor, what are your priorities for the next two years?
A: To get the LRT on Hurontario St. from the lake up to Brampton on its way. We want to be ready when the province — when Metrolinx — distributes or announces their next group of projects. We’re moving right ahead. Our lakefront development, Inspiration Lakeview, is well on its way with a major plan for the Lakeview area (where a coal-fired energy plant once sat), on a large chunk of land. We’re hoping to open up the access to the lake.
Q: What about downtown development, which has exploded over the past decade?
A: When you think we started the city core in a hayfield, it’s been a long road. The intention from day one was that the buildings would all be connected, either underground or overhead, and it was to be a pedestrian area based on walking around and enjoying the city core. You are well aware that I tried to get a convention centre in the city core. … It certainly won’t help the economic development of the city until we have a convention centre and a major four- or five-star hotel. … Windsor has one, London has one — there are many cities that are much smaller than we are that have a convention centre …We’ve got a lot of work to do, but it’s exciting. Rome wasn’t built overnight and our city core won’t be built overnight.”
Q: What is the biggest challenge to the city’s finances as it faces a $1.5 billion infrastructure deficit, now that Mississauga is all grown up?
A: We do not want our infrastructure to depreciate to the point that it’s falling apart, as is happening in some municipalities across this country. We’re going to spend the money to keep it up to date, and that’s why we’re going into debt.”
I’m chairman of the Large Urban Mayors of Ontario, and what we’re facing, every other municipality is facing. We can’t operate our cities on the property tax and user fees. We’ve got to have other sources of income. The Metrolinx budget to make some improvements — improvements, not fix — congestion in the GTA, it’s a $50 billion budget. Even if only one-third of it is (a municipal) responsibility, the property tax can’t fund it. We have two choices with congestion in the GTA: do nothing and let it build; or do something and know you have to pick up the tab for it.
When I hear politicians talk about cutting taxes I say to them: ‘Where have you come from?’ I don’t know of any unlimited pot of money sitting somewhere that’s going to drop from heaven to pick up the tab for a $50 billion capital budget to ease the gridlock in the GTA. As I said to Tim Hudak — he came out to see me this week — ‘I don’t know why you are promoting cutting taxes and yet saying you’re going to build all those subways and LRT, because I don’t know where the money’s coming from. If you know, tell me.’
I’m taking a strong stance. I really believe it’s time that politicians inform the public of the situation. We’re all concerned about adding taxes. I’ve been saying, we’ve got to bite the bullet. Sure, we can cut costs . . . but it isn’t even a drop in the big bucket of capital that’s needed to ease the congestion in the GTA. And then there are those who say, ‘Well, go all underground.’ … There’s some reality that we have to accept. I don’t know where the money’s coming from. The (Hurontario) LRT we estimate (at roughly) $1.5 billion. Let’s say one-third federal, one-third provincial, one-third city…one third of $1.5 billion has to go on the property tax. Do you think we can do it? The politician has got to start talking reality.
Q: What do you think of the way the provincial government handled cancelling the controversial gas-fired power plant that was being built in Mississauga?
A: They cancelled it when it was half up. Why did they cancel it? Whether you can prove it or not, it’s obvious that they cancelled it at election time with four people (Liberal candidates) involved in the area that could be affected. If you cancel a contract you’ve got to pick up the tab for it, but I’ll tell you, you pick up a big tab when it’s half-built and then has to be torn down.
Q: What are your feelings about Premier Dalton McGuinty’s decision to resign? It’s no secret that the two of you forged a very close relationship over the past decade.
A: “I was unhappy with the decisions that were made in regards to eHealth, ORNGE and the gas generation. Bad decisions, no question about it. But that premier has done more for the municipalities; he’s tried to overcome the downloading that the Conservative government did to the municipalities across this province. … He cancelled the contribution that every region around Toronto had to make to Toronto to help with their social costs. He gave us a new Municipal Act; there hadn’t been a new Municipal Act for a hundred years … he gave us the (memorandum of understanding) which gives the municipalities, the representatives of all the organizations, the opportunity to sit down and discuss with the ministers legislation that affects municipalities, so we can have input. He gave us (a percentage of) the gas tax; he’s increased the contribution to ambulance service … He’s done a lot of things for the municipalities.
I don’t know of any municipality that would criticize him for the great contribution he made. He’s in the process of taking court security off the property tax … Mr. McGuinty is doing that.
Oh, I’m sure there are things he didn’t do for us, but I’ll tell you, he did a lot for the municipalities of Ontario, a lot. And so, it’s sad. I don’t know, whichever government is elected, … if they’re going to continue the uploading of all the things that were downloaded on us. … I pleaded with Tim Hudak … that he continue the great things that McGuinty has done for the municipalities of Ontario.
Q: Switching gears, you have been on the Rick Mercer Show, Regis and Kelly, other shows, and have had articles written about you around the world. What do you think of your celebrity status?
A: I just accept it. I’ve been around. I talk to people. The Rick Mercer Show, I’ve got to tell you, brought more international recognition to the city and to me than any show that I know of. I had emails from Australia, New Zealand, Israel. He put it on YouTube, it went across the world. I had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of emails from people. You can talk to the staff to find out how many autographed photographs we had to send. Regis’s show gave me a lot of publicity in the United States. People coming back from Florida, (recall that) when they’re asked, ‘Where are you from?’ (and answer) ‘from Mississauga’, (people say) ‘Oh, yeah, your mayor, yeah, your mayor …’ They get a kick out of it.’”
Q: You have said this is your last term as mayor. But with no signs of slowing down and rumours that you’re not finished yet, will you run again?
A: No, nope. I will not be running again. That is definite. No, I feel that I’ve accomplished a lot. Yes, there’s still things that need to be accomplished, no doubt. At 94 I think I should be retired. I’m going to continue, definitely, to fight for the needs of the municipalities after I retire, no question about it. I’ll be speaking out very, very strongly.
Q: Last question: Who do you like in the U.S. election, President Obama or Governor Romney?
A: President Obama. I think his statement (Monday) night was just beautiful. When Romney challenged him and said, ‘You haven’t had this small a navy since 1917,’ and Obama came back and said, ‘Yes, we no longer use horses and bayonets,’ I thought that was beautiful. I think that Obama is a person that’s interested in people.”
— Torstar News Service