'Hurricane Hazel' saves a city

'Hurricane Hazel' saves a city
Mrs Hazel McCallion, 93, has been mayor of Mississauga for 36 years, turning around the debt-ridden city on the outskirts of Toronto in five years.

Tomorrow in Toronto, the world's oldest mayor, Mrs Hazel McCallion, will receive the Emperor of Japan's Order of the Rising Sun for twinning her Canadian city, Mississauga, with Kariya city in Japan.

As the feisty 93-year-old told The Sunday Times last Monday on the sidelines of the World Cities Summit here: "This award is a big deal for me. And Kariya is the only sister city that Mississauga has in the world, with which we have wonderful exchanges of citizens, sports clubs and service groups."

In her 36 years as mayor, the steely-eyed grandmother with a pin-sharp memory has run Mississauga as tightly as if it were a multinational company, prompting many to call her the Margaret Thatcher of Canada as well as Hurricane Hazel for her no-nonsense efficiency.

Japan admired that and so today, she exults, there are 82 Japanese businesses operating in her city of 760,000 people, which is on the outskirts of Toronto and is Canada's sixth-largest city.

Mississauga is 40 years old, and Mrs McCallion has been mayor for 36 of those years. The city was formed in 1974 by merging the towns of Mississauga, Port Credit and Streetsville, the last of which she was mayor from 1970 to 1973.

Among Mississauga's most famous sons is the late jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, who was her "very good friend".

Asked why she ran her city like a business, the widow, former office manager and former newspaper owner said: "I was a Depression Kid. I've learnt that a big part of success is good financial planning, so you don't do something if you don't have the money to do it. That's how I run my city."

Mississauga was debt-ridden when she became its mayor in 1978.

But she turned it around in five years and was debt-free up until last year, when she splurged on a better public transport system and LED-powered street lights.

Her trip here last week was her first to Singapore, and she said she wished she could implement some of the city-state's strict laws on crimes and littering back home.

Not surprisingly, Canada's political parties have tried to get her elected to a national or provincial post.

But she turned all of them down because "you can't be independent if you belong to a party. You have to follow the party line.

Whereas at the local level, I've worked hard to attain what I've attained.

"It's far more satisfying to be in local government because I'm close to the people. You can't get away with giving them excuses; when you go shopping or to church or for sports, you're meeting them".

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