Hazel McCallion, Mayor of Mississauga Profile

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Mississauga Mayor McCallion:
We run our city like a business
By Tann vom Hove, Editor

1 February 2004: In November 2003, at the age of 82, Hazel McCallion started her 10th term of Mayor of Mississauga, a city of some 680,000 people just to the south-west of Toronto. Mayor McCallion celebrated her first mayoral election victory in 1978 and, during her 25 years in office, both she and the city she leads have set new standards in Canadian municipal government. Mississauga is one of a few cities in Canada that are debt-free. In fact, the city has not had to borrow money since 1978.

Hazel McCallion was runner-up in World Mayor 2005

Mayor Monitor for Hazel McCallion: Assess her performance in office

Mississauga was formed in 1974 out of the previously independent communities of Streetsville, Port Credit and Mississauga. Once a collection of diverse, near-rural communities, today Mississauga is an established city, frequently looked upon as a case study in delivering quality services to its residents while maintaining low taxes and attracting an impressive array of economic development. In the last 11 years, the city's portion of property taxes have only been increased once, and that was for a mere 1.7 per cent in 2002. It is an achievement unparalleled in Canada for a city of Mississauga’s size or growth rate. Since 1974 the city's population has increased by more than 150 per cent.

Mississauga has an operating budget of CAN$427.6 million for transit, planning, library services, public works, recreation and parks, fire services, corporate support, facility costs and other non-departmental costs. Some 20,000 businesses provide 386,000 jobs for the people of the city. Blue-chip companies with operations in Mississauga include Astra Zeneca, Bell Mobility, GlaxoSmithKline, Hewlett-Packard and Pratt and Whitney Canada.

Hazel McCallion is a committed follower of a pay-as-you-go philosophy and, in 1991, she became the first mayor of a major Canadian city to submit an annual operating budget to its residents for their input and scrutiny. Internationally, the Mayor received Germany’s Cross of the Order of Merit for her role in bringing German companies to Canada.

In media articles the Mayor of Mississauga is often called ‘Hurricane Hazel’, and her political style is sometimes compared to that of Britain’s former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

In an interview conducted in January 2004, City Mayors discussed with Hazel McCallion her achievements and plans for Mississauga.

Under her leadership, Mississauga has become one of the world’s few major cities that are debt-free. The Mayor attributes the city’s sound financial position to her decision to run the city like a business.

The city's position of being debt-free can be attributed to our dedication to responsible and forward-looking fiscal management. This concept is central to our strategic plan and our management processes. But in a word, we run the city like a business, and adhere to a pay-as-you-go approach. We plan for expenditures, and save for the unexpected. What is incredible about Mississauga's growth is the fact that it is coupled closely with a superior quality of life for residents, with great services at a reasonable cost,? she explained.

Hazel McCallion is convinced that her administration’s fiscal policies could be adopted by other cities in Canada and elsewhere. She said that to carry out such policies successfully required a concerted effort by elected officials to adopt such policies, to stick with them and to explain them to and share them with staff. “No elected council does it alone. It is essential for a council to work together with its staff to try to do what is best for a city and its residents,” she stressed.

However, even though Mississauga’s current financial position is strong, with a debt-free balance sheet and money in reserves, the Mayor fears that this situation cannot last forever. “Down the road, we could be faced with some very serious problems, as there is a great need for revenue sharing by the provincial and federal levels of government,” Mayor McCallion explained.

With, no doubt, one eye on the ‘New deal for cities’ promised by Canada’s new Prime Minister Paul Martin, Hazel McCallion told City Mayors that her city needed sustainable sources of revenue to fulfil its responsibilities. “We cannot simply rely on property taxes to pay for the future needs of our city,” she said.

While Mississauga has successfully attracted companies from North America and Europe – the city’s economy is supported by business sectors such as financial services, bio-medical, information technology, automotive and aerospace – the amount of foreign investment in Canada is dwarfed by capital flowing into the US. City Mayors pointed out that in a recent report by the UK-based Economic Intelligence Unit, Canada was forecast to become the world’s best business location, and asked Mayor McCallion if she felt that more should and could be done to promote Canada’s attractiveness as a business location.

The Mayor believed that not enough is done to promote Canada as a business location that can service the entire North American market. “Canada should emphasise how it embraces other cultures and its pride in multicultural diversity,” she stressed.

As far as Mississauga itself is concerned, the city’s economic development office works closely with the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. The Mayor told City Mayors that because the city’s strategy was building on its strength, primarily, in high growth sectors, it had developed selling messages that were unique to each sector. “Our efforts also focus on some countries like the US, the UK and Germany, whose companies are already well represented in the city,” she added.

Even in her tenth term of office, Hazel McCallion is in no mood to rest on past achievements. While she takes great pride in having contributed to Mississauga’s transformation from “a small bedroom community to Canada’s sixth largest city”, she is ready to take on future challenges, in particular securing additional revenue streams for the city. “Mississauga’s infrastructure is showing signs of ageing, and will need to be replaced. We are also faced with demands for additional services without substantially increasing property taxes,” the Mayor explains.

The Mayor of Mississauga’s restrained language – she uses the phrase ‘we are counting on’ – in her challenge to Canada’s provincial and federal governments to provide the country’s cities with sustainable revenue sources does not disguise her combative determination to achieve a truly fair deal for Mississauga and other Canadian cities.

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