The Mississauga News
September 30, 2014

In case you haven’t noticed, Hazel’s not the retiring kind

You don’t expect Hazel McCallion to show a lot of emotion in public – except for the rote “boiling anger” routine she goes into at the mention of the latest transgression from the feds, the province, the region, the developers, the media or the chosen enemy of the day.

But the mayor seemed genuinely moved a couple of times Saturday night at the last gala of her illustrious career as mayor of Mississauga. There was actually the occasional catch in her voice as she talked about her family and her career.

You know it was special because she not had family there from all the places they have now scattered to, as well as the connections that are still left in her hometown of Port Daniel on the Gaspé.

Not only were they there, but she took the time to introduce them and have them wave at the 1000-strong crowd.

She was also clearly thrilled that her old friend and fellow Québecois, Jean Chrétien attended.

He seemed all geared up to run against Stephen Harper in the federal election that is scheduled just over a year away. The ever-feisty former Liberal Prime Minister reminded us that the last time he saw Harper, he told him that “Gladstone came out of retirement at age 84 to form his last government. I’m only 76.”

The former PM added later that “Hazel you’re unique. If you quit retirement, I will quit retirement too.”

There were a lot of people in the crowd Saturday night who’ve been part of Mississauga’s history, who just felt they had to come back to pay tribute to the legend one more time. They weren’t acolytes, they were just quiet admirers who’ve watched her drive the public agenda, like it was her private car, for so many years.

Former Enersource Hydro Mississauga President Karl Wahl, who was appointed to head the utility in 1989, said he and McCallion rarely saw eye to eye on matters.

“She was always reminding me that I wasn’t in the private sector anymore,” laughed Wahl during the cocktail reception. “But she’s one of a kind. She always had the City’s best interests in mind.”

During the lockout of workers at Enersource, Wahl recalled an inventive sign that made him laugh even at the time: “Hazelnuts and Wahlnuts expect us to work for peanuts.”

Jack Gibbons, who headed the Ontario Clean Air Coalition that lobbied provincial governments for years to get rid of the dirty coal-fired plants, bought a ticket to pay tribute to McCallion. Without her championing the cause, he doubts it would have been successful. He summed it up in one sentence: “She made the coal phase-out happen.”

While she’s been a female trailblazer in politics, McCallion’s most lasting contribution on the national scene will be as the champion of world women’s hockey. She had as much influence as anyone in making it an Olympic sport.

“We would not be in the Olympics without Mayor Hazel McCallion,” Fran Rider, founder and still president of the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association, stated boldly, but accurately.

After Dec. 1, McCallion will have an office at the new OWHA building in the Airport Corporate Centre she said at a press conference preceding the gala. “I worked with them to get women’s hockey into the Olympics … and we want to make sure it stays there. There’s a lot of work to be done to convince other nations to produce female hockey teams.”

Oh, oh.

That likely means that there could be a nonagenarian guest coach for a new team in the next Olympics – the Honduras Hurricanes.

Although she’s known for some time that retirement was pending – since she was the one who triggered it – you definitely get the impression that she hasn’t fully embraced its pending reality.

“Has it sunk in? I don’t think so,” McCallion admitted Saturday night. “I keep setting it aside. It’s hard to think that when I wake up on Dec. 1, I won’t have a long agenda to follow.”

During her speech she added, “My journey is coming to an end as mayor of Mississauga. I don’t like to think about it because it’s been so much a part of my life.”

She’s not alone. It’s safe to say that most Mississaugans, especially the generations that have grown up without ever knowing anyone else as their mayor, have been psychologically postponing acceptance of her departure too.

For those who’ve watched her absolutely dominate the public agenda for 36 years – in good, and not so good, ways – it’s difficult to accept the concept of a non-Hazel led Mississauga.

Prepare for use of a new term in municipal politics – “Post-McCallion Concussion Trauma Syndrome.”