Hurricane Hazel wins 12th term as mayor

TORONTO - She's 89 years old, has won her 12th term as mayor of one of Canada's largest cities, and still keeps a pair of skates and a hockey stick in the trunk of her car in case she comes across a pick-up game.

TORONTO - She's 89 years old, has won her 12th term as mayor of one of Canada's largest cities, and still keeps a pair of skates and a hockey stick in the trunk of her car in case she comes across a pick-up game.

Hazel McCallion, a former professional women's hockey player in Montreal in the 1930s, still holds the seemingly uncontested title of oldest mayor in Canada.

Still, a scandal over a conflict of interest in her last term seemed to cost McCallion — known affectionately as "Hurricane" Hazel — some of her support.

She was first elected to lead Mississauga, Ont., in 1978, and scored margins of victory of 92 per cent in each of her last two elections.

With more than three-quarters of polls reporting Monday, McCallion had 76 per cent of the vote — a decisive victory for any politician but not the numbers of old.

She also failed in her efforts to sink the re-election chances of several councillors that drew her ire, said Renan Levine, a social sciences professor at the University of Toronto.

"Hazel's power is not absolute," he said.

McCallion was a rookie mayor when Mississauga suffered its worst-ever disaster: a Canadian Pacific freight train derailed with tankers of hazardous chemicals catching fire and exploding, forcing about 240,000 residents to flee their homes in November 1979.

Despite spraining her ankle early in the disaster, McCallion kept hobbling to update briefings. Her handling of the situation won the rookie mayor the confidence of her city's voters, something she has never lost.

McCallion saw the conflict of interest issue as so small a threat to her chances for re-election that she didn't even put up any campaign signs.

She remains one of the most popular politicians in the country, said Renan Levine, a political scientist at the University of Toronto.

"You don't find many 89-year-old politicians. You don't find very many female mayors, especially of a city as large as Mississauga, and you certainly don't find many mayors who have stuck around 32 years," said Levine, who lives in Mississauga.

"There's good reason why Hazel doesn't need to actively campaign: she's very visible, she's very well liked and she's very much appreciated for her performance."

McCallion also refuses to accept political donations, instead asking her supporters to donate the money to charity.

Born Hazel Journeaux in Port Daniel, Que., in 1921, her father owned a fishing and canning company. Her mother was a homemaker and ran the family farm.

After high school she attended business secretarial school in Quebec City and Montreal. After working in Montreal, she was transferred by Canadian Kellogg company to Toronto.

She met and married her husband, Sam McCallion, and they had three children: Peter, Paul and Linda. McCallion has one granddaughter, Erika, born to Paul and daughter-in-law Donna Marie.

Prior to becoming mayor, the McCallions founded The Mississauga Booster community newspaper, which her son now edits and publishes. In 1997, Sam McCallion died of Alzheimer's disease.

She does all her own chores from shopping to cleaning, and McCallion still isn't above admonishing one of her middle-aged sons for leaving the lights on after he's left a room.

McCallion was hailed as a hero in 2006 during a police standoff involving a distraught man who was threatening to kill himself. The five-hour standoff came to a peaceful end when McCallion appeared and demanded the man stand down so police, paramedics and fire personnel could attend to more important matters.

Last month McCallion admitted, grudgingly, there might have been an appearance of conflict of interest when she pushed for a multimillion-dollar land deal for the city that would benefit her son's business interests.

Mississauga is debt free, one of the best run cities, fiscally, in the country, something most other municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area can only look at with envy.

McCallion used lower taxes in Mississauga to attract businesses from its much more expensive neighbour, Toronto, to help increase the city's growth and create jobs. It's now the third largest city in Ontario and the sixth largest in Canada, with a population of 734,000.

McCallion likes to boast that as many people commute into Mississauga each morning now as leave the city for jobs in Toronto, but the city now has serious traffic congestion problems.

Her performance in Mississauga has not gone unnoticed by other politicians, but McCallion has turned down requests by the Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats to run for them federally or provincially, saying politics is far more satisfying at the local level.

The Mississauga News applauded McCallion's record in office but refused to endorse her bid for re-election, saying the mayor "alternated between doddering senior and man-eating shark" during her testimony at a public inquiry into a conflict of interest.

"McCallion is becoming a lame-duck mayor who won't work with anyone who challenges her authority. After an illustrious career, it is time for McCallion to vacate her office," said the newspaper's editorial Monday.

Peter Fonseca, a provincial Liberal cabinet minister who represents Mississauga-East, called McCallion an "icon" and said there's a simple reason she doesn't need to put up campaign signs or knock on doors.

"She campaigns every single day. If I could keep up with her schedule I'd have to be 20 years younger because I don't know if she ever sleeps," said Fonseca, 44.

"She's always working for the city and that's what the people see in her, her work ethic and what she’s been able to achieve."