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Last month, Hazel McCallion capped off her mayoral career: It began in 1970 in the town of Streetsville, Ont., and concluded 44 years later in the city of Mississauga. In her new memoir, Hurricane Hazel: A Life with Purpose, the woman also known as the Queen of Sprawl discusses her brightest highlights and biggest challenges. Here, McCallion, now 93, shares some of the secrets to her lengthy success, including why girls today should have a no-holds-barred approach to the world

Less talk, more action

When I was elected mayor of Streetsville there were very few women who held political office in Canada. There has been a lot of progress, but there is still a long way to go: We need more women in Ottawa, we need pay equity. In general, I try to avoid discussions on whether a woman can do this or do that. I feel that you have to just get in there and do it, demonstrate in your own life. I tell young girls, you can do anything a man can do. It's all in your mind. I do think that young girls today are protected far too much by their parents. Parents let the boys fend for themselves, but they treat the girls like they're fragile and need to be looked after. Young girls need to be taught confidence and independence. Parents want their sons to be ambitious and they should want that just as much for their daughters. The young girls I meet today are so capable and I just want them to know that there are no limitations.

To do it, plan it

If you're going to accomplish anything, you can't just get up in the morning and wonder what you're going to do. As mayor, of course, I have a prepared agenda that would get sent to me every evening, and then I would take that schedule and add in my personal notes. I would include everything – time I needed for my family, which was a lot back when I was first starting out and my youngest was 8 or 9. Even today, I will budget time to do whatever needs to be done in terms of my house, time to care for my dog. You can't manage your time if you don't include everything – even those smaller tasks can add up, and then people wonder why they get to the end of the day and feel so far behind. The secret is that you have to plan and then you have to manage, so you know not only what needs to get done, but how much time you have to do it.

The most important partnership

My husband Sam and I had 44 years of happily married life, which I am so thankful for. I think it is so important to choose a partner who is compatible, so that one person isn't letting the other one down. When I would have to go back to the office in the evenings, Sam would go back to work at his printing company – he didn't have a large staff and he enjoyed running his business, so the arrangement worked out well for us. We would talk to each other about work. I would discuss whatever challenges I was having and he was always very good at assessing the situation. I think we both appreciated the role of the other. I was the politician. Sam would come with me to many of the events. I used to call him my driver. Sam enjoyed coming along and he was always happy to be in the background. He didn't need to be up front. He made many friends that way. They saw that he didn't want to interfere with what I was doing. He was supportive and he also had his own goals and interests. That's what worked for us.

Less is more

My mother was my most important role model. She taught me so much, including that a little hard work never killed anyone. She had to do the laundry on a washboard. There was none of the equipment we have today to run a home. When you look at how strong women were back then, it's just amazing. I really do think that people today have it too easy. I used to wear secondhand clothes. I remember going through the catalogues of Eaton's or Simpson's and looking at all the wonderful things, but you knew you couldn't have any of it. As a child, I had a couple of toys. Today kids don't know which toy to play with. I never went hungry, my parents took care of me, but we had hardships, we had to make our own fun. I think that develops a strong character and then when you do receive things you appreciate them more. I saved up to buy my first car. I saved $2,000. It was a Ford Monarch. I worked overtime and saved every nickel I possibly could. I paid for it in cash. You remember those things.

Straight talk, not slick talk

In the world of politics you hear a lot of "let me look into that," or "I'll get back to you," when that is not the real intent. I have always tried to be straightforward and more than that to offer an explanation. People may not like your answer, but if you give an explanation I think they will at least respect the fact that you have given the matter some consideration and validated their concern. Just to say no right away is disrespectful. Even worse is to say yes, knowing full well you can't do it. If I tell you I am going to look into something, I will absolutely look into it.

This interview has been condensed and edited by Courtney Shea.

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