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Hazel McCallion, the long serving mayor of the city of Mississauga, Ont. will be celebrating her 92nd birthday on Valentine's Day, Feb 14 2013. (FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Hazel McCallion, the long serving mayor of the city of Mississauga, Ont. will be celebrating her 92nd birthday on Valentine's Day, Feb 14 2013. (FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

POLITICS

Mississauga mayor was courted by Liberal rivals in Ontario race Add to ...

In her 34 years in office, Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion has been staunchly non-partisan – but that hasn’t stopped anyone from trying to drag her into party politics. In fact, she said in an interview, she was courted by the two front-runners in the race to become Ontario’s next premier.

She went with the eventual winner.

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It was a testament to the popular mayor’s influence in Mississauga and on a leadership candidate from her city.

While Ms. McCallion told The Globe and Mail she did not negotiate with Mississauga MPP Charles Sousa (recently named Finance Minister) to shift his support to Kathleen Wynne during the convention (a move that ultimately cemented victory for Ms. Wynne), she said Mr. Sousa may have made his decision after seeing her with Team Wynne.

Hurricane Hazel, as she’s known by her loyal supporters, says she’s still no card-carrying Liberal, but has rallied behind the new Premier because she “knows her record” and sees her as someone who can clean up the messes made during Dalton McGuinty’s terms.

With a legacy already set (much of Mississauga’s transformation from farmlands to booming city of 741,000 happened during her tenure), Ms. McCallion has no qualms about making politically unpopular decisions or taking on institutions or elected officials when she has to in her 12th and final term as mayor. Days before her 92nd birthday, which is Thursday, Ms. McCallion sounded off to The Globe and Mail about everything from why she turned down Sandra Pupatello’s invitation to the leadership convention to her beef with the Toronto Region Board of Trade.

...why she rallied behind Kathleen Wynne

Ms. McCallion attended the Liberal leadership campaign launches for both candidates from her home city – MPPs Harinder Takhar and Charles Sousa – but when it came to the leadership convention, she surprised political watchers by backing Ms. Wynne (although she points out, “I did not wear any of her regalia at all.”)

She said both Ms. Pupatello and Ms. Wynne invited her to the convention, but she chose to sit with Team Wynne. “I’ve met her often in a number of portfolios. I like the way she listens and the way that she responds.”

More importantly, she said they see eye-to-eye on a number of hot-button issues that particularly affect Mississauga. “I’m very pleased with her recognition that the Greater Toronto Area is in a crisis situation with regard to transit and transportation. She also knows I’m supporting [that] there’s got to be additional taxes to pick up the tab for it.”

...how Dalton McGuinty should have taken her advice

Ms. McCallion said Mr. McGuinty always took her calls, but not necessarily her advice. She said during the odd time she advised the former premier, she warned him that the special-purpose bodies he set up – Hydro One, Ornge and the Ontario Power Authority – would eventually “cause problems for him second to none.”

She was most vocal about that last body, the OPA, which approved construction of a gas plant in Mississauga more than a decade ago without consulting the city. The provincial government made a controversial decision to cancel the project in the last stretch of a provincial election campaign, which came with a hefty bill.

She is confident the new Premier will get things in order.

“I think Kathleen Wynne will certainly do something about the operation of the special-purpose bodies in this province. She has to. She has no choice but to get control of how they are managed and their spending.”

...why public inquiries are not always for the public good

In the aftermath of the cancelled gas plants controversy (a second plant was to be built in Oakville), the Premier has asked the province’s Auditor-General to investigate the costs of the cancellation. Official opposition leader Andrea Horwath of the NDP has kept up her call for a public inquiry – a move that puzzles Ms. McCallion.

“Doesn’t matter who made the decision, it was a wrong decision. I don’t know what more they want to know about it...who sent a memo or who sent a letter? A public inquiry will cost millions of dollars and obtain nothing more than we know now.”

Ms. McCallion is familiar with the costs of inquiries – Mississauga taxpayers shelled out $7-million for a judicial inquiry that found Ms. McCallion was in a conflict of interest when she advocated for a convention centre proposal in council that would have financially benefited her son (she was found to have violated common-law principles, but not the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act).

...why she’s not happy with the Toronto Region Board of Trade

When Carol Wilding, chief executive officer of the Toronto Board of Trade, called Ms. McCallion last month to tell her the board was changing its name to the Toronto Region Board of Trade, Ms. McCallion was aghast. She said she discouraged Ms. Wilding from making the change since it was an insult to other boards in the region that had been autonomous for years.

“Everybody was surprised that the board of trade of Toronto would do it without consultation. I mean, you don’t do things like that because it infringes on the area on which there are boards of trade and chambers of commerce.”

...how she’s getting too old to fuss over her birthday

Her 90th birthday party, had the black-tie gala, the video greeting from Regis Philbin, the live dance performance. Her 91st birthday party, scheduled at a nursing home, was a little more subdued. This year, she’s done with the fanfare. She’s driving out to her farm at Puslinch Township for a low-key but exclusive fete.

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