Hazel McCallion on Engaging Your Community

She’s 93 years old, a key player in Mississauga’s debt-free status, and an ex-professional hockey player (who still goes for a skate from time to time).

After 11 consecutive terms as Mississauga’s mayor, Hazel McCallion has chosen to end her time as the city’s most valuable and watched person. McCallion became Mississauga’s first mayor in 1978, and hasn’t left since.

So what makes Canada’s oldest mayor such a hit with her people? She stays true to her beliefs, makes decisions for the betterment of Mississauga, and takes a no-nonsense approach when running her city.

What’s even more fascinating is the fact that the mayor doesn’t campaign. She asks supporters who offer campaign dollars to donate the money to charity instead. In the most recent election, despite competing against 16 other candidates, mayor McCallion still won 76 per cent of the votes.

“One of the most important lessons is to involve the people of the community. I think we have done a good job of this in Mississauga where we frequently engage our citizens in numerous public meetings and symposiums regarding the city’s plans on any number of given projects.”

In 1991, mayor McCallion was the first mayor to have the public involved in the annual budget, where they could openly voice their opinion and concerns.

“By doing this, we engage the community and obtain valuable insights and ideas that we can then incorporate, thereby ensuring that the public’s voice is heard.”

“Hurricane Hazel” is a lady for her people, and she has succeeded 11 consecutive terms because of her bold yet humbling approach to democracy, with the belief that collective effort makes the vision happen.

“You can have the best policies in the world, but if you don’t have the capable, dedicated people – committed staff – dedicated and committed, they don’t happen. It doesn’t happen.”

If you’re working with a community, it can sometimes be easy to forget that they can have valuable insight to help direct your project. Too often we can come to view our audience as a source of income and not a part of a relationship – work to engage them and make them feel special, and they’ll elect you back into their lives time and time again.