Is Hazel McCallion Wrong on This Huge Issue in Mississauga?

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie has stated that one of her mentors was former mayor Hazel McCallion, but that is not to say they agree on every issue. For example, both have disagreed on whether street checks (aka carding) was sound policy (McCallion has supported carding while Crombie has called for its elimination).

Now they have another issue they publicly disagree on, and it’s an issue that is quite prevalent in Mississauga: the issue of sprawl.

Basically, urban sprawl happens when people move away from central urban areas (in this case, Toronto) and settle in low-density (less populated) communities. These communities—often known as suburbs—usually require the use of a vehicle to get from Point A to Point B.

While some people champion the concept of quiet suburbs, others believe they’re genuinely detrimental to society. Famous Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, for example, believes urban sprawl is the cause of a host of ills and that it should be contained.

Mississauga has been, until somewhat recently, a product of urban sprawl.

McCallion has been serving as an advisor to the provincial government on GTA issues and it’s been reported that she has asked that the province pull back on its quest to curtail urban sprawl—the kind of growth that was synonymous with her mayoralty for decades.

The province needs to slow down and get the details right on how we’re going to implement new policies and accommodate the inevitable growth. There is an overwhelming consensus among the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area mayors and chairs that the province is going ‘too far too fast’ with proposed land-use policies for the Golden Horseshoe,” said McCallion in a press release.

Mayor Crombie, however, has been articulating and supporting policies that result in higher density targets being reached in terms of growth in her attempt to turn Mississauga into a modern city rather than a suburban bedroom community.

In layman’s terms, Crombie believes Mississauga can—and should—become the big city it’s seemingly meant to be.

And Crombie is not alone in her assessment. Several other GTA mayors responded as well, contradicting McCallion’s assertion that there is “overwhelming consensus” from municipal leaders regarding the province’s growth policy. Ajax Mayor Steve Parish, for example, said that his town would be able to adhere to the intensification targets.

And while there were some mayors who did say they also wanted to slow down the march to intensification, there were just as many who were opposed or straddling the middle position. You can hardly call that an overwhelming consensus to back down on curbing sprawl.

I have some of my own additional thoughts on this story:

Disagreements between McCallion and current Mississauga Council

Other Mississauga councillors also do not share Hazel’s view on sprawl. Ward 5 Councillor Carolyn Parrish is no stranger to disagreeing with McCallion. Despite recently having a genuinely affectionate moment with the former mayor when they were recently discussing reforming Peel Region’s governance model, Councillor Parrish has never been shy about expressing her views…to or about anyone. Here is Parrish’s tweet regarding McCallion’s press release.

And here’s Parrish, who’s been very friendly with Crombie lately, backing the current mayor’s position.

Parrish disagreeing with Hazel McCallion is no surprise, but this current council has been leaning towards a consensus lately on various issues that are apart from McCallion. Councillors such as Jim Tovey have been instrumental in promoting smart growth principles in Lakeview and almost every councillor has some revitalization project in their ward that promotes smart growth. The majority of councillors in office now either have never served with McCallion, or served during McCallion’s final term. Mississauga is moving on, but McCallion’s shadow lingers.

This is Indicative of McCallion’s Leadership Style

Hazel McCallion had long been accustomed to almost a one person government during her 36 years as Mississauga’s mayor. She knows that after such a long record of service, her words hold weight amongst the political leaders of the GTA and beyond. Therefore, perhaps she felt she had some authority to speak on behalf of the GTA municipal leaders…but that doesn’t mean she’s always right.

It sounds to me her use of the phrase ‘overwhelming consensus’ may not have accurately reflected the views of the various mayors and chairs that she represented. The overwhelming consensus (as previously demonstrated) obviously has proven not to be true. But you can imagine how McCallion’s reputation precedes her. She’s used to having people listen to her.

This is also indicative of the province’s capitulation on the advice of a leader that was long known for the type of policy that they are trying to move away from. And yet, the province appointed her to advise them on GTA issues. They couldn’t find someone who understood the modern GTA a little better than Hazel McCallion, the Queen of Sprawl?

The Old Model Doesn’t Work Anymore

Hazel McCallion was promoting the heck out of Mississauga and put this city on the map. But she stuck to a rather simplistic, uninspiring and uncontroversial model of governance that emphasized spread out development (sprawl) and collecting the impact fees from development—which helped keep property tax rates low for decades. She claimed that that’s what the people wanted at the time, and she may have been right. But sometimes the hallmark of true leadership is doing what’s unpopular to bring about long-term gain. Eventually, sprawl ran its course and we are now living with the consequences of neglected infrastructure and paying for it through our property taxes (which are now higher than Toronto’s).

I’m not saying Mississauga, Milton or other municipalities around the GTA need to develop high density cities similar to, say, Toronto, but there needs to be a recognition that land these days is scarce and valuable. Keeping green space free from development has enormous benefits for future generations in terms of preserving environmental health and sustainability. Just slapping up more homes on land means you’d have to have the infrastructure to keep servicing those areas. People will pay more taxes as a result.

Smart growth is what we have and what we should be used to, and trying to curb it is not a wise decision. As for this call to curtail plans to curb sprawl coming from someone who was known for promoting sprawl, we should look towards leaders like Mayor Crombie and Councillor Parrish as the people we should be listening to, not Hazel McCallion.

Follow me on Twitter at @thekantastic

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