Mississauga: Bright future or are the financial glory days over?
Mississauga mayoral candidates Bonnie Crombie and Steve Mahoney are seen in this combination photo. (Facebook)
Published Wednesday, October 8, 2014 10:41AM EDT
For the past 36 years one name has been synonymous with the growing city of Mississauga – Hurricane Hazel.
Hazel McCallion has been serving as mayor since a time when the population was a third of what it is now and fields covered most of the newly amalgamated city.
She has overseen massive growth and development including the new 50-plus storey Absolute World towers, which most refer to as the Marilyn Monroe buildings.
Now at 93 years old and after a lifetime serving her community, she is not seeking re-election. McCallion hasn't spent a dime campaigning since the 1990s and really hasn't had competition since her first win in 1978.
Her departure is about to leave a giant vacuum. Whoever succeeds McCallion will have big shoes to fill and some major issues to tackle.
"The next councils are going to have a tough time with financing," University of Cape Breton political science professor Tom Urbaniak told CTVNews.ca. He is a Mississauga native and author of “Her Worship: Hazel McCallion and the Development of Mississauga.” "One of the advantages of sprawl is that most of the development is happening on greenfield sites, not directly in people's backyards."
Over the decades McCallion was able to bring in a lot of money for the city by charging developers steep fees for developing the greenfield sites. That money not only went toward building new infrastructure, but also toward improving infrastructure in other parts of the city.
"That allowed the city to not increase taxes for years," said Urbaniak. "The money that was there for replacement is now gone. The glory days are over."
And because these developments weren't in people's backyards, there was little opposition. Now, all of the greenfield land is gone and the only place Mississauga can build is up.
And that leads into the next major issue facing Canada's sixth-largest municipality – transit.
"I think we missed out on transit, but people wanted single family homes and you don't build a good transit system on single family homes," McCallion told reporters in September during council's last full meeting before the election.
Urbaniak said trying to provide rapid transit in areas that are already built up is difficult and very expensive.
Urbaniak said taking over for McCallion will be a massive task and believes the next mayor will likely only serve one term.
Twelve people have entered the race and according to a recent Forum Research poll, two of them are running neck-and-neck.
They both have a lot of good things to say about McCallion and insist Mississauga's future is bright.
"I personally think our best days are ahead of us," Mahoney told CTVNews.ca. "There are big shoes to fill, but the reality is she (McCallion) didn't do this alone."
Mahoney served as a city councillor in Mississauga in the late 1970s and 1980s.
"We didn't have the advantage of being a small old town, but we have the opportunity to build it to our vision," said mayoral candidate Crombie.
The two candidates have strikingly similar platforms. They both focus on increasing rapid transit and development while promising to hold property tax increases in line with inflation. They also both grew up in Etobicoke and made the move west.
In addition to increasing rapid transit, they both see a need to increase development along the busy corridors, such as Hurontario Street.
Crombie said people want a pedestrian-friendly city where boulevards are filled with cafes and restaurants. People want a "livable, walkable city."
But both understand the potential problems with new development.
"We are pretty much built out of greenspace," Crombie said. "Raising revenue is one of the most serious challenges we face."
Mahoney and Crombie will learn their fate when Mississauga voters head to the polls on Oct. 27. Neither think they will be in the role for 36 years, but both are hoping for more than one term.
This is part two of a two-part series on the past and future of Mississauga. Part one discussed how McCallion and others transformed the city and why McCallion was so successful.