She is one of Canada's best known and longest-serving mayors. At the age of 86, she was easily re-elected in November 2006 for her 11th consecutive term, holding a 91% majority of the votes, and has often been reelected without even needing to conduct an actual campaign.
Hazel McCallion was born in Port Daniel on the Gaspé Coast of Quebec. Her father owned a fishing and canning company. Her mother was a homemaker and ran the family farm. She had two sisters, Linda, and Gwen and two brothers, Lorne, and Lockhart. After high school she attended business secretarial school in Quebec City and Montreal. She has stated, especially while receiving university honours, that she would have wanted to attend university, but financially her family could not afford it. After working in Montreal, she was transferred by Canadian Kellogg company to Toronto. She met and married her husband, Sam McCallion, soon after in an Anglican Church congregation. As a marriage present from McCallion’s in-laws, a piece of land in what would later become Mississauga, near the village of Streetsville, was given to the newlyweds. She has two sons, Peter and Paul, one daughter Linda and a granddaughter Erika. McCallion has often stated, such as on TVOntario's Studio 2, that her husband was always encouraging and supportive of her political career. Prior to becoming Mayor, Hazel and her husband founded The Mississauga Booster community newspaper, a paper that her son now edits and publishes. In 1997, Sam McCallion died of Alzheimer's disease. The Sam McCallion Day Centre was created by the Alzheimer Society of Peel to honour Sam, the founder of the annual Streetsville Bread and Honey Festival. Hazel still resides in Streetsville.
McCallion is well known in Canada for her love of hockey. She played for a professional women's team while attending school in Montreal. One of her friends is Hockey Night in Canada commentator Don Cherry, who joked during her 87th birthday that while 98% of the city voted for her, he was looking for the remaining 2% that didn't.
In a first-person account for Canadian magazine Confidence Bound, McCallion credited her faith with giving her the energy her job demands. "Having a life filled with purpose and meaning and living my life in a Christian-like manner helps to motivate me and keep me energized," she said.
She also revealed that she does everything around the house herself. "I do my own cleaning, grocery shopping, gardening… The assumption is that people in my position have others doing all these things for them but I like to be self sufficient. Housework and gardening are great forms of exercise and keep one humble."
At the age of 85, she was involved in an accident when her car crashed into a signpost around McLaughlin and Cantay. The front of her vehicle was badly damaged but she walked away from the accident without any major injuries. McCallion said she was looking at papers on her lap when the car hit the post.
McCallion began her political career in Streetsville, Ontario, a village which has since merged into the city of Mississauga. Beginning as the chairman of the Streetsville Planning Board in 1967, she later became deputy reeve of Streetsville and was appointed reeve soon after. She was elected as Streetsville's mayor in 1970, serving until 1973. By the time she was elected mayor of Mississauga, she had sat on virtually every committee in the Peel Region and the city of Mississauga. She has also served on the executive of many federal and provincial committees and associations.
She was first elected Mayor in 1978, narrowly defeating the popular incumbent Ron A. Searle. McCallion had been in office only a few months when a public health and safety crisis occurred during the 1979 Mississauga train derailment. On November 10 a Canadian Pacific train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in a heavily populated area of Mississauga near Mavis Road. A large explosion and fire ensued as hazardous chemicals spilled. McCallion, along with the Peel Regional Police and other governmental authorities, oversaw an orderly and peaceful evacuation of the entire city. She sprained her ankle early in the crisis, but continued to hobble to press conferences and update briefings. There was no loss of life or serious injuries during the week-long emergency, and Mississauga gained international renown for the peaceful evacuation of its then 200,000 residents. McCallion has overseen the growth of Mississauga from a small collection of towns and villages to one of Canada’s largest cities. This dynamic growth of the Toronto area occurred after the 1976 election of René Lévesque's Parti Québécois government sparked an exodus of Anglophones and corporations from Montreal to Toronto. As Toronto grew in national standing, Mississauga politicians worked to define their community beyond a bedroom community of Toronto.
Today, Mississauga is home to a mix of commercial, residential, industrial, and recreational areas. According to a Canadian relocation service, "Mississauga has 9,730 businesses, widely diversified in manufacturing, distribution and business services. As well, there are approximately 9,000 retail businesses." The McCallion government also spearheaded the development of a 'downtown' Mississauga area. The building of the shopping centre Square One in the Hurontario Street and Burnhamthorpe Road section of the city during the 1970s has evolved into a centre of commercial and recreational activity.
The Civic Centre, including a new city hall, Central Library, and Mississauga Living Arts Centre, along with a Mississauga Transit terminal and shopping and entertainment options now populate the former fallow farm land. This city centre helped unite residents of the different towns that made up Mississauga without destroying the smaller villages. The construction of Highway 403 in the 1980s eased access to this area of the city. In the 1990s, the Hershey Centre, a hockey arena and concert venue, was built near Matheson and Tomken Road facilitating the creation of the Ontario Hockey League's expansion team Mississauga IceDogs.
Some of McCallion's initiatives have been unsuccessful. Under Ontario law, Mississauga is part of Peel Region, along with Brampton and Caledon. McCallion and Mississauga council have asked that their city be made a single tier municipality, but so far that request has been denied by the Ontario government. Mississauga has so far obtained two additional seats on the regional council which still gives it less representation than its proportionate share by population or by municipal tax base. This has created controversy within the region. Brampton and Caledon politicians argued against McCallion, saying that Mississauga's growth has slowed down and it was the chief beneficiary of Peel's 1970s infrastructure projects.
McCallion has also been unsuccessful in collecting the taxes owed to the City of Mississauga, when the federal government appropriated land for Terminal 3 of Toronto Pearson International Airport, which has cost the city millions directly. Others argue that it can be considered an investment towards helping expand Canada's largest international airport which benefits Mississauga. Gridlock on the arterial roads continues to plague Mississauga as in the rest of Peel Region. There are other issues affecting residents, such as a lack of affordable housing—another Peel Region responsibility. Currently, residents who qualify to receive social housing must wait many years before units are made available by Peel Region, which is instead directing the region's $1.2 billion accumulated tax reserves toward the provincial mandate for water treatment expansion and repairs, which must be completed by 2010 to comply with environmental regulations developed as a result of the Walkerton Commission reports.
In 1982, McCallion was found guilty of a conflict of interest on a planning decision by the Ontario High Court of Justice due to not absenting herself from a council meeting discussing a matter in which she had an interest. However, it was found to be a bona fide error of judgment and she was not required to vacate her seat.
McCallion has been easily elected for the last twenty years, with no serious challengers coming close to unseating her as mayor of the city. Due to her popularity, she does not campaign during elections and refuses to accept political donations, instead asking her supporters to donate the money to charity. She is currently beginning her eleventh consecutive term as mayor.
She was lauded as a hero in April 2006 during a police standoff involving a distraught man threatening to kill himself. The five hour standoff promptly came to a peaceful end when McCallion showed up on the scene and demanded he stand down so that police, paramedic and fire personnel could attend to more important matters.
Her principles are grounded in the belief that a city should be run like a business; thus, she encourages the business model of governance. Her family's business background, her education and prior career in a corporation prepared her to approach government with a business model. Mississauga is one of the few cities in Canada that is debt-free; it has not had to borrow money since 1978. She has been described as a "small-c" conservative.
Although McCallion was one of the first women to hold political power in Canada, it is difficult to categorize her as a feminist. She is able to express support for women's equality in Canada, and internationally, without being typecast ideologically. She was chosen one of the "American Women of the Year" in Who's Who of American Women as well as "Women of the Year 2001" by an international business lobby.
Her Christian faith also contributes to her concern for the public good. A member of Trinity Anglican Church in Streetsville, her charitable work now includes Hazel's Hope, a campaign to fund health care for children afflicted with AIDS and HIV in southern Africa. Accordingly, she has been lauded as "an international ambassador for the city and a world citizen" by a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization advancing the concerns of cities internationally.
In 2007, McCallion responded to the federal government's refusal to give one cent of the GST to the cities, a funding source long requested by many municipalities across Canada, by planning to levy a five per cent surcharge on property taxes in the city. She was able to have the levy introduced and approved on the same day by Mississauga council, in contrast to Mayor David Miller of Toronto who was unable to get increased tax revenue approved for months. Most media coverage, as well as Toronto mayor David Miller, noted that McCallion was arguably one of the only mayors in the country with the political capital to implement such a strategy.
McCallion has also expressed pessimism over Miller's 'One-cent now', saying that "I can assure you our citizens [of Mississauga] can’t point out to us where there’s a lot of waste. Toronto, unfortunately, has that situation, in which their citizens are saying it, as well as their board of trade has been saying it and even their own councillors are saying it. If my councillors were saying we were wasting money, I'd be really concerned. I think we give value for tax dollars; we run our city like a business." Toronto councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong made a comparison; "Hazel McCallion runs a tight ship. David Miller’s ship has leaks all over the place,” and some commentators suggested this allowed Mississauga to make a more credible case to the federal government. She unveiled her own plan known as 'Cities Now!' to get federal funding for municipal infrastructure.