She was a force to be reckoned with in Mississauga, where she served as mayor for decades, but her reach was far greater than those city limits.
Municipal leaders from across Simcoe County and Muskoka are fondly remembering their professional and personal relationships with former Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, who died at home over the weekend at 101.
“She’s always been a leader among mayors, let alone one of Canada’s most popular politicians,” says Jeff Lehman, the current chair of the District of Muskoka and former mayor of Barrie.
Lehman first met McCallion when he was a councillor back in 2006. Over the years, they developed a relationship that Lehman valued. He eventually was tasked to take over for her as chair of LUMCO, which is now known as the Ontario’s Big City Mayors caucus.
“It’s impossible to replace or even succeed Hazel McCallion; you just try to take the good work that she’s done and, in some ways, live up to her approach and ideas,” says Lehman.
Before running for the head of the group, Lehman approached McCallion one-on-one. He says it was important to him to keep her legacy alive.
“It was Hazel’s vision that started it back when it was only a few cities that were part of it,” says Lehman. “It was her that really said mayors have to work together, we have a unique role in Ontario’s political system, and we can really push for the provincial and federal governments to do better for our cities.”
Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin invited McCallion to speak at her inauguration in 2018, an invitation she didn’t think would be accepted but says she was incredibly humbled when it was.
“I think it set us off on such a good foot for four years because she talked about how we need to work together,” says Dollin. “She said if you, the mayor, the council and the staff you work together, you’ll get so much done, and you’ll be so successful, and so she gave not only me but the members of council a good starting point.”
Dollin was still a councillor when she first met the late Mississauga mayor. She says she was intimidated by her presence, calling her the Mick Jagger of her world, but she was shocked by her knowledge of municipal affairs outside of Mississauga and her sense of humour.
“I told her I was from Innisfil, and I was prepared for her to answer back and say where’s that, and I would explain to her where Innisfil was, but instead, she looked at me and said I don’t know what you do with your gas tax dollars in Innisfil, that 7th line is atrocious,” Dollin remembers. Both Dollin and Lehman remember not only her sense of humour but her dedication to public service.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today in municipal government without her,” says Dollin. “She was involved with getting the gas tax dollars that each municipality gets now predictable funding from the federal government; she was responsible for that. She’s a tireless advocate for local government, and she’ll be missed greatly.”