Where does Hazel Fit In with the Big City Mayors?
The last couple months have been exciting for two of Canada's biggest cities -- and by exciting; I actually mean riveting and fascinating, if not a little sobering. I'm not being ironic when I say that Toronto and Montreal's mayoral scandals boosted each city's profile (albeit negatively, but sometimes there's really no such things as bad press) and got people talking about the often ho-hum world of municipal politics. Perhaps there's some schadenfreude (I totally just spelled that right without Google) at work here (especially among Rob Ford and Montreal politics critics), but the two scandals have propelled important discussions about crime, corruption, ideological warfare, media responsibility and -- in a roundabout away -- voter ignorance or outright apathy.
They've also proven that kind Canada-- a quiet, low-profile, clean country with a pretty pristine reputation -- has its share of questionable leaders and public figures.
But what, you might ask, does this have to do withMississauga?
Well, quite a bit.
Mississauga, the sixth largest city in the country boasting a population of over 700,000 people (that's, like, close to a million guys!) once watched as its beloved (and she is beloved) matriarchal mayor came under fire for a high profile conflict of interest case and still voted to give the then 89-year-old incumbent the reigns of power in the 2010 election. Now, I know very few people vote in municipal elections (http://www2.mississauga.ca/vote2010/results2010.htm). But I also know that, despite the scandal (a good overview can be read here: http://www.torontolife.com/informer/toronto-politics/2011/10/04/hazel-mccallion-386-page-report/), Hazel walked away with 76 per cent of the vote (lower than her usual share, but still an astoundingly decisive victory). And if you look at the results, you'll notice that 2010 voter turn out was the highest it had been in years.
So, in the spirit of fun (sort of) and reflection, let's take a look atCanada's six biggest cities, their mayors, those mayor's misdeeds (if there are any) and their chances for reelection!
1. Toronto - Population of 2.615 million
Mayor: Rob Ford
Assumed office: December 1, 2010
Misdeeds: Where do I begin? And how do I re-hash this quickly without boring anyone, as this story has been in the headlines for six weeks? In the time of the 24-hour news cycle, that's the equivalent of being the only thing on TV for 32 years.
Basically, back in May, Gawker editor John Cook told the world he met up with several Rexdale drug dealers who showed him a cell phone video that allegedly captured Rob Ford smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine. After Gawker's story broke, the Toronto Star shared their experience with the same men and the same video. Since then, much has changed while much as stayed the same. Ford's insistence that The Star was smearing him was met with skepticism by even his staunchest media allies in the immediate wake of the scandal (such as National Post's Christie Blatchford http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/05/17/christie-blatchford-rob-ford-owes-his-supporters-the-cold-hard-truth-over-crack-allegations/).
In the following weeks, we watched an exodus of former staffers fleeing his office like it was on fire and heard tales of him firing detractors at lightning speed. Then we heard that people linked to him in the picture and alleged video were dead, wanted or known to police. Then we found out his name had come up in wire tapped conversations. Oh, and we also found out, via a jaw-dropping Globe and Mail exclusive, that his brother, city councilor Doug Ford, was allegedly a big shot drug dealer in his youth. There were also some big police raids linked to the people linked to Ford.
A hot mess.
Will it hurt him? This Toronto Sun article paints a rosy picture for Mr. Ford's political future http://www.torontosun.com/2013/06/27/mayor-rob-fords-approval-rating-rises.
A 47 per cent approval rate doesn't mean -- as the article points out -- that Ford will walk away with that share of the vote or that things won't change between now and election time. But it's a good approval rating to have, especially after being linked with gangs and hard drugs. Perhaps the support comes from ideological allies who think of Ford as protection from -- and a slap in the face to -- those cycling T.O. "elites" who drink soy lattes (everyone knows soy is for ~*girls*~) and do yoga and stuff. Or it's from people who like his NO GRAVY style of fiscal chest pounding. Or it's from middle of the road types who have lost interest in the scandal. Regardless, it's disturbing that such serious (albeit not yet proven) allegations could fade into the night, giving the mayor a nearly 50 per cent approval rating.
2. Montreal - Population of 1.649 million
In office: November 16, 2012 - June 18, 2013
(June 18 he announced his resignation)
Mayor: Currently Laurent Blanchard, formerly Michael Applebaum
Misdeeds: These are lengthy, and slightly less sexy than Ford's alleged illegal activities because they don't involve street gangs and crack videos. But they do implicate the mafia.
Earlier this month, former Mayor Michael Applebaum was taken from his home in the back of a cruiser. He's been accused of committing fraud, conspiracy and corruption regarding some dicey real estate deals.
You can read The Star's breakdown here: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/06/17/montreal_mayor_michael_applebaum_has_been_arrested.html
Although Applebaum has since resigned his post and is maintaining he's innocent of any wrongdoing, Montrealers are weary of allegations of corruption among their elected officials (Gerald Tremblay, who was mayor prior to Applebaum, was turfed due to corruption allegations as well).
In this case, it's easy enough to say that, barring the possibility of Applebaum being quickly found (beyond a shadow of a doubt) innocent, his political career is...stalled, if not over. As for Montreal's issue with corruption -- namely bribes and kickbacks -- the onus may be on the voters to show outright hostility to any candidate (or elected official) who lacks transparency, but clearing up what may be a culture of corruption may take some time. Godspeed?
3. Calgary - Population of 1.096 million
Mayor: Naheed Nenshi
Assumed office: October 25, 2010
Misdeeds: While it's normal for the citizenry to bicker and pontificate and demonize an elected official for the supposed mishandling of this or that, complaints (of which there will always be many) do not signify a mayor is behaving badly. In the case of popularCalgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, the only real scandal attached to him (and it also involves a secret video) is one that makes him look pretty good!
In fact, since Mr. Nenshi seems to be a shoe-in the next election, some detractors may be trying to stack city council against him in a last-ditch effort to neutralize his influence and push through some development projects. You can read more about this debacle -- involving former Reform party leader Preston Manning -- here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/story/2013/05/31/calgary-preston-manning-homebuilders-ch.html. Basically, homebuilder Cal Wenzel shared his plan to try to get current and potential city councilors on his side with financial incentives and says hefty donations might get Manning, now of the Manning Centre of Building Democracy, on board.
This scandal -- if it's proven that developers are indeed donating above and beyond what's appropriate to override a mayor's decision -- will work in Nenshi's favor, especially since he's currently a public favourite for his admirable handling of Alberta's horrific flooding.
In fact, Mr. Nenshi has become Canada's own Cory Booker (minus the house lending) (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/01/cory-booker-neighbors-hurricane-sandy_n_2059971.html) and even the Calgary Sun, which admits it's been tough on him, is praising his extraordinary leadership during a difficult time (http://www.calgarysun.com/2013/06/26/calgary-mayor-naheed-nenshi-deserves-praise-for-his-leadership-during-the-flood-crisis).
4. Ottawa - Population 883,391
Mayor: Jim Watson
Assumed office: December 1, 2010
In fact, the Ottawa Citizen ran this absolutely adorable story comparing Ottawa's head honcho to Toronto's troubled mayor (http://www.ottawacitizen.com/technology/Watson+Ford+tale+mayors/8461379/story.html). It seems that while Mayor Ford was dealing with the aftermath of a crack scandal, Watson was busy getting letters from Oprah, eating lobster on paper plates and wishing people happy birthday on Twitter.
Who's the cutest mayor on Twitter!?
Although some business owners, including Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, are furious about the mayor's proposed placement of a new casino http://www.ottawacitizen.com/travel/Ottawa+Senators+owner+Eugene+Melnyk+blasts+Mayor+Watson+over+sole+sourced+casino+site/8478456/story.html, it seems Mr. Watson hasn't done anything all that bad. Unless you, like, consider Tweeting about baseball and dining at a South American restaurant a crime or something…
5. Edmonton - Population of 821,201
Mayor: Stephen Mandel
Assumed office: October 26, 2004
Misdeeds: Mandel, who recently announced he would not be seeking reelection in the future, is also one of those lucky guys who has only had the typical charges of waste and incompetence leveled at him by people who disagree with his initiatives. In the world of politics, that's par for the course. If you do something that doesn't sit well, you will be Satan. Some criticisms will be valid, others hyperbolic. It's normal.
While some thought Mr. Mandel had too much ambition (http://www.edmontonsun.com/2013/05/21/gunter-edmonton-mayor-stephen-mandel-leaves-city-in-better-condition-than-when-he-found-it) and an unsustainable flair for big ticket projects, no one, it seems, can argue that he didn't have well intentioned high hopes for his city.
Although, if you read the comments to the above story, you'll notice someone dismissing his entire nine year tenure in office because ALL THe POTHOLES!!!!!
If only potholes we're the worst of Mayor Ford or former Mayor Applebaum's problems.
6. Mississauga - Population of 713,443
Mayor: Hazel McCallion (or Hurricane Hazel or Madam Mayor or, just simply, Hazel)
Assumed office: December 1, 1978
Misdeeds: Before I begin, I must remind you (as if you needed reminding) that Hazel has been mayor for a very, very long time. She's iconic and functions almost as much as the personality of the city as she does its mayor. You can buy Hazel bobbleheads, okay? My mom has one.
But Madam Mayor was found to have committed a rather serious misdeed back in 2011 when a judicial inquiry revealed she engaged in a rather blatant conflict of interest when she promoted a multi-million dollar hotel development deal that would have benefited her son, Peter McCallion.
The deal was eventually scrapped and, although the inquiry officially found the mayor guilty of conflict of interest after the 2010 election, talk of the brewing scandal dogged the indefatigable incumbent before Sauga natives hit the polls. Despite the scandal -- and despite getting a lower share of the vote than usual -- voters agreed to give the long-standing mayor yet another four years.
There are several reasons Hazel is still standing -- and standing proudly early into her 10th decade of life.
Reason the First: A conflict of interest scandal, though unsavory, isn't particularly sexy, and therefore isn't of great interest to the average voter. Keep in mind that, in the last election, 70 per cent of Saugans did not vote. They didn't vote because they didn't care to turf their mayor over a dead deal (or they didn't know about it), and those that voted for her likely knew about the debacle and voted for her any way.
Reason the Second: This may sound cynical, but one monetary scandal in over 30 years of leadership is, well, pretty good. The mayor herself knows it, as she's refused to resign in the wake of the finding. She, like most savvy politicians, also knows that most people will let a scandal slide if they really like the leader.
Reason the Third: As I said before, Hazel is an icon. She knows many of her decisions haven't been perfect (see the hand-wringing over expanding much needed transport), but she's presided over a growing city, quite successfully, for over three decades. What was once a clump of houses around a mall is now a semi-urban space with condos, an art gallery, several mini-downtown areas and a city square with a jumbotron. It's not perfect. There could be better organization and transportation. But it's certainly not that shabby.
At this point, Hazel will leave office when Hazel is good and ready. She may not be as entertaining as Rob Ford, but she's got staying power (and bobbleheads).
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