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Toronto Sun - Feb. 15, 2009 - By Columnists John Snobelen
Mississauga super power Hazel McCallion is facing a
A number of years ago I drew the short straw and was given the task of telling a great old cowboy that his hour on the stage was over.
He had been a great one, a champion, but the time had come to pack it in before old reflexes began to tarnish a great reputation.
It wasn't a pleasant task. From that day on I have always been conscious of getting off the stage before the hook came.
I believe that experience helped to form my view of politics as a temporary act of public service. In my opinion, people should enter the political world, make their contribution, and then make way for others. Stay too long and you become that poor player who is full of meaningless sound and fury.
So what to make of Mississauga city council and Hazel McCallion?
I tell people there are only three ways to exit elected office; quit, die or get beat. It would seem that on Mississauga council you can scrap the last option. Mississauga councillors seem to serve for life.
There are a lot of reasons for this longevity. There is little media attention and the local politicians like it just fine that way. There is no political opposition. Council members tend not to attack each other publicly.
But the big reason for the lack of turnover on council is the absence of a mayoral race. I often tell people I am from Mississauga, where we have suspended democracy in favour of occasional coronations.
Hazel McCallion is the most powerful political force in Ontario. Politicians are afraid of her. No one takes on Hazel.
She learned the political game as the mayor of Streetsville and in 1978 she shocked the big boys and won a tough race for the mayor of Mississauga. Some people thought she would be a one-term mayor.
But fate intervened. In 1979 a train derailed and Hazel was front and centre for the largest evacuation in Canadian history. Some thought the evacuation was also a colossal overreaction but Hazel won the hearts of the citizens.
She was everywhere. She still is.
Hazel was acclaimed in the next election. She has now won 11 straight. She either never campaigns or she never quits campaigning, depending on how you look at it. That first election 30 years ago was the last time she was seriously challenged.
Hazel is the best retail politician I have ever met. She has one speech. Mississauga is great. Everyone else is bad. Mississauga is open for business. She has given that speech to adoring crowds for three decades.
She is everywhere. If your dog gets lost in Mississauga, Hazel will probably be out in her housecoat with a flashlight looking for it.
But nothing lasts forever. For the first time in memory, Hazel is facing real opposition.
Councillor Carolyn Parrish has never met a camera she didn't like. You may remember her from when she stomped a George Bush doll on TV as a Liberal MP. Now she wants Hazel's job and the play-nice days are over on Mississauga council.
Parrish and her henchman, fellow councillor George Carlson, have done their best to divide the council and embarrass the mayor. They have been effective.
While I'm glad I didn't draw the assignment of telling Hazel it's time to hang up her spurs, I have hoped that she would be able to leave office with grace and dignity. I think we could use a few enduring icons.
But that doesn't seem possible given the bitterness now evident on Mississauga council. Parrish needs to remember that while people may believe that the time is approaching for Hazel to leave office, no one wants to see her pushed.
Maybe that's why I find myself cheering for Hazel one more time.
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