THE DEMOCRATIC REPORTER
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The Globe and Mail - Mar. 5 1983, Sat. Fanfare p.3 - By Stephen Dale
In the path of HURRICANE HAZEL
Accused of political opportunism, convicted of conflict of interest,
CITY CENTRE DRIVE is not the kind of place one would define as the heart of a city but when the city is Mississauga, a row of Bauhaus boxes across from a shopping mail will have to suffice.
Mississauga is Canada's tenth largest and fastest growing city, but it didn't so much grow out of its own history as cities normally do. Rather, it seemed to spring off the drawing board and into reality over night. About a decade ago, there was only a loose collection of rural burgs where today there is a massive commuter kingdom. Mississauga is housing surveys, apartment towers, shopping malls and industrial parks, and its hard to find a heart in all of this.
Sitting in her office in a nondescript building on City Centre Drive, Mayor Hazel McCallion is perhaps the antithesis of what Mississauga is all about. She has style, personality, spontaneity and verve ... qualities that seem to be in short supply on the landscape. Sometimes caustic, always outspoken, rough-edged and determinedly personable, her style harkens back to a time before high-rise living and underground parking lots.
Hazel is a big hit with the media, who have affectionately dubbed her Hurricane Hazel and The Mom Who Runs Mississauga. At 62, she is short and sturdy looking, with blunt, weathered facial features that lend her a look of grandmotherly warmth which, at times, assumes a certain severity. Quirky, keen and energetic, she follows in the tradition of former Ottawa mayor Charlotte Whitton or the late newspaper publisher Margaret (Ma) Murray: local political matriarch with lots of gumption and a fighting spirit. She is, in short, a suburban folk hero, and opponents and admirers alike concede she's nurtured a grassroots support that is decidedly awesome.
McCallion is not at all shy about advancing her own legend. She allows that, yes, the media mythology is true: she still cooks dinner for her brood and does all the family's housework, despite the burdens of office. And she'll give an unflinching evaluation of her political style.
"I guess I'm identified as a people's mayor. I ‘m very concerned about people. I find the big guys, can look after themselves. It's really the little businesses and the little people who need help. I'm a grassroots mayor, a peoples’s mayor. I believe in an open-door policy and open government ... I feel it’s very important that the people feel they can talk to the mayor."
Councillor Larry Taylor agrees: "She's what you would technically call a populist politician.” Yet, for him, the term seems slightly tainted. “She meanders through political ideologies. She’s basically conservative, and that would be her principle line position would depend upon the public mood or what she perceived to be the public mood. Hazel has, over the years, taken positions that are 180 degrees apart.”
Some equate McCallion's populist politics with opportunism. "She's a very smart and shrewd politician, and she covers her ground very well," says Michael Solomon, a former city editor of The Mississauga News. "She comes across very well on a public platform, too: 'folks this' and 'folks that' and 'I'm for the little guy' and so on. But she's like many politicians ---- when she's in front of people, she's very nice and smiling and, when she's behind them, it's another matter."
There are chinks in McCallion's political armor that tend to contradict her public concern for the "little guy." The average Mississaugan might be surprised to discover that a mayor who steadfastly expresses her intent to "make developers pay their way" is part owner of a company registered for the purpose of "development and property." Macran Associates is owned by McCallion, her husband Sam, and another former counciller and his wife. One transaction made the Toronto press after Markborough Properties sold 2.6 acres of vacant industrial land to Peter McCallion (the mayor's son) in trust, and it was passed on, to Macran for $2. Markborough's price on Jan. 30, 1973, was $79,740. Seven months later, when Macran sold the parcel to three development firms, the figure had risen to $212,640, for a profit on paper of $132,900.
If Mississauga is uncritical, or unaware, of the seeming paradoxes of McCallion's career, perhaps it is because both press and populace have known and loved her public persona for so long. Mississauga is a modern frontier town, where gangs of high-rolling real estate types of have made fortunes in the rush to erect an instant city. Hazel is seen as the people's gunslinger, whose shotgun politics have made life safe for the townsfolk.
Councillor Steve Mahoney says that, in the early days of Mississauga council, nine or 10 years ago, McCallion "was on a council that was seen as a right-wing, extreme group, and she was 'the loyal opposition.' She was seen as: the feisty fighter, fighting, in the the gutter against a lot of influential people ... People get a kick out of somebody standing up and saying things which are sometimes a little outrageous, and attacking the establishment all the time. She is less of an opponent as the mayor, but the basic political criteria are there: she’s an attacker, very aggressive, not afraid to take on anyone, quite often unjustly, but the public loves that."
Says former mayor and longtime McCallion foe Ron Searle: "She thrives on confrontation ... During my term, she opposed me on every major issue. She fought against the official plan, for reasons that were shown not to be valid. She fought against me on the adoption of the core study, and now she virtually takes credit for it ... I once said to Hazel, 'The difference between you and me is that I see a problem as being a temporary impediment to a solution, and you look at it as a political platform.’"
Confrontation may have put McCallion in the mayor's chair, but what canonized her was the Mississauga train derailment of 1979. "If there was ever a situation where somebody was in the right place at the right time, she's a classic example," says Mahoney. "I don't think any political leader could have handled the derailment, which is really what made her popularity more than anything, in such a highprofile and dynamic way. She even upstaged (Attorney-General) Roy McMurtry and all the heavies from the province. At that point in her career, she probably could have run for just about any political office in Canada."
It was before perhaps the biggest contingent of newsfolk, cameras and microphones ever to gather in one place in Canada that Hazel assumed centre stage, demanding justice from Canadian Pacific and praying for the safety of her flock. Her dauntless energy during the crisis earned her the nickname Hurricane Hazel.
Since then, McCallion's heroic reputation has traveled far. "I've been out west, and seen people come up to her in the lobby of a hotel in Winnipeg, and people recognize her instantly and compliment her," says Mahoney. “It’s uncanny. I was at a hockey tournament up in Northern Ontario, and the band opening up in a bar welcomed all the people from Mississauga, and they called it 'Hazel McCallion country.' "
Yet, back at home, McCallion occasionally has had to face the results of her shoot-'em-up politics. "She has enemies which she's developed over the years," Mahoney say, "because, to put it bluntly, she has annihilated a few people in her rise to the centre chair.” McCallion's path is littered with bitter ex-associates and adversaries who toss off accusations of unbridled ambition, an ability to play the press and public and a voracious capacity for revenge.
One of those ex-associates is John Graham, a lawyer and, like McCallion, one-time mayor of the pre-Mississauga town of Streetsville. Last year, he dealt probably biggest challenge of her career by taking the Mayor to court with a conflict-of-interest complaint. McCallion says Graham carries a grudge because "I defeated him on a major issue over some land between a property owner and a lawn bowling club, and he was very upset about it ... He doesn't take defeat too easily." Graham says his motivation was a desire to protect democratic processes "from, the McCallions and her breed."
It was, ironically, at Graham's behest that McCallion got involved in the Streetsville Planning Board in the late sixties, which is when her considerable political popularity was born. At the time, she "fought tooth and nail" in her words, to preventing the absorption of Streetsville into the proposed city of Mississauga, leading public demonstrations and capturing a slew of heated headlines. The campaign was a failure but not so its leader: McCallion went on to become mayor of Streetsville, and then in 1974 to become an increasingly prominent member of the new Mississauga Council.
“I used to have a great dear of respect for her," says Graham. "We were political allies; but I lost respect at the time the Region of Peel was created. She took political advantage of that situation, and she led the people to believe that they could stop Streetsville from being dunped into Mississauga, and they gave her a solid vote. I considered that to be an intellectually dishonest position to take because she knew, and I knew, and any politician at any level knew there wasn't a hope in hell of saving Streetsville ... I found the whole thing utterly disgusting; to be running around drumming up support when it was really just a 'let's boost McCallion' campaign."
McCallion counters that she still stands by her fight for the old town, though "I guess we're going to have to live with it as much as I opposed it strongly. I think it's one of the most major errors that's ever been made, and that's the feel of the people, too."
Just how deeply political feelings run in these parts was illustrated when Graham took McCallion to court, a move that cost him $30,000 personally and McCallion says "appears to be a case of sour grapes."
The complaint involved a report prepared for City Council by town planners and several civic agencies that spelled out the areas of Mississauga to be opened to development. It was presented to the council on Oct. 14, 1981, but the contents were kept secret until a public meeting on Nov. 2. In the interim, seven of the 10 councillors --- later referred to in court as "the gang of seven" ---- met privately in restaurants, bars and the regional chairman's office to discuss the situation. They decided on major revisions, adding large areas to the development bank and taking other portions away. One of the parcels they threw in was a five-acre tract that Hazel McCallion and her husband had owned since 1951.
McCallion attended only one secret meeting and did not seem to have a hand in amending the planning report. Yet, she took part in the public discussion, and voted on the revised plan. Last July, a County Court judge found her guilty of contravening the Ontario Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. However, he applied a discretionary clause that allowed him to leave her in office because he could find no intent of corruption. His ruling was upheld upon appeal in October, and McCallion went on to win last November's election by a healthy margin.
Hurricane Hazel revels in her victory. "I think the public saw through the conflict of interest thing. It was a procedural error which was made, and there was no dishonesty, which the count ruled, absolutely no touch of dishonesty. I declared my conflict of interest hundreds of times. I mean, it's just a political move, because those or the other side, few in number, felt they couldn't defeat me at the polls, and they had to build something to try to discredit me in the eyes of the public. They tried very hard, and it just didn't fly with the public, because cause I'm well known in Mississauga and a very visible mayor. I'm out there with my people and the people know me." ,
Out on the "other side" of Mississauga politics, Ron Searle, the incumbent who was unseated by McCallion in 1978 and who lost again last fall when he tried to return the favor, contemplates his arch-rival’s recovery. Bespectacled and intellectual, Searle is, at a glance, from a completely different school of politics. His white hair and contemplative frown give him a strong resemblance to U.S. newscaster Harry Reasoner. Fond of polysyllabic configurations and academic turns of phrase, he’s not at all the folksy lectern-thumper that McCallion is.
A student of history, Searle has a basement bookshelf lined with volumes dealing with a favorite topic, the Watergate era. He seems fairly restrained ---- too gentlemanly to do political battle with McCallion, he says ---- but when he talks about the last election, his voice grows jagged with indignation. "I heard and debated McCallion at public meetings and she continued to make statements which were absolutely contrary to those in the judgment. 'Yes, I was guilty, but guilty only of a procedural error.'
"Well, as I pointed out, the conflict of interest act does not take procedural errors into account. You're guilty or you're not guilty, and the judge found her guilty on four counts. The people either didn't care or they didn't understand. That's what infuriates me, when she can get up and make those statements of innocence virtually unchallenged."
Challenging political claims is the stock in trade of the press, and Mississauga, though larger than Ottawa and Hamilton, is not media rich. Its 330,000 residents are served by neither a local daily newspaper nor a local television station. What they do have is a radio station that broadcasts only during daylight hours, the twice-weekly Mississauga News and a few limited-circulation weeklies. The News used to compete with another major weekly, but The Mississauga Times closed in July, 1981, after one newspaper, chain active in the area, Metrospan, bought out the other, Inland Publishing.
Further frustrating the dissemination of news is the council's preference for doing its bull work behind closed doors. The practice is nothing new, says Michael Solomon, who remembers covering meetings of Streetsville council under Hazel McCallion, and going back to The News to write an editorial decrying what he felt were its secretive ways. "What happened is that every Monday council would have a nice little closed caucus meeting in a room across from the council chamber, where they would make all the decisions. Then they would traipse across the hall and let in the press and public ---- there weren't many of us; usually about a dozen ---- and sit there and approve everything. It was all organized in a closed session: who would move what, who would support it, what would and would not be debated. So you couldn’t find out where the hell people really stood.”
Solomon maintains that, after The Times died, the remaining press "started cozying up to the politicians," and stories went soft. "I started getting told, ‘You go up to the Woolco store and write a nice feature about what a beautiful store it is,' and this kind of thing. I told. them to shove it; I'm a reporter, not a PR guy.” Solomon is now a freelance writer.
Mike Toth, editor of the 70.000 circulation News, is adamant that the community press has a stronger track record. Toronto dailies, he says, dip into Mississauga for advertising revenue and summary news, but his paper is "part of Mississauga. We take an interest in the total well-being of the community."
Toth rebuts any suggestion that The News is overly friendly with politicians. "I'm sure our readers in City Council would not agree with that assessment ... We have taken issue with secret meetings. We broke the story on it. When it's' necessary to take a stand, we take a stand."
Even with the strong feelings McCallion evokes among her detractors, things are surprisingly sedate on the battlefield of Mississauga politics. "One thing I'm proud to have established as mayor is that the confrontational politics in Mississauga has gone from the council itself," says the Mayor. "Those people whom I have defeated and who don't like my open, straightforward approach to things, they'll never go away, I guess. But we've eliminated confrontation at the council level during my four years as mayor. Councillors consult with each other, they don't hold grudges."
Others consider the decorurn at City Hall eerie. "There's purge of all open debate," contends Searle. But to most Mississaugans, Hazel McCallion remains their watchful "mom" of municipal politics; they take little stock in the portrait her foes paint, that of a kind of Maurice Duplessis of Peel Region, a politician with the common touch and most uncommon ambitions. Buoyed by her phenomenal popularity, she continues to promise a new era of progress for Mississauga, her kingdom, "Hazel McCallion country."
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