At age 92 and in her 35th year and 12th consecutive term as mayor of Mississauga, Ont., Canada’s sixth-largest city, Hazel McCallion is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, she’s devoting her last two years in office to solving the seemingly insoluble problem of gridlock in the Greater Toronto Area.
The outspoken, no-nonsense McCallion is one of the longest-serving elected officials in the world, a runner-up in the prestigious World Mayor Competition and Ontario’s senior statesperson. The mayor has shown an uncanny ability to best her detractors, keep her city largely debt-free and emerge largely unscathed from conflict-of-interest imbroglios.
Born Hazel Journeaux in 1921 in Port Daniel on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, McCallion is also a devout Anglican. “My faith has always been an important part of my life from my earliest memory,” she says. “My parents always emphasized the importance of having God in our lives and the responsibility we have to do God’s work by helping others.”
It was her upbringing in a family where religion was practised not only on Sundays but also in everyday life that led McCallion to politics. And while she has never felt a calling to vocational ministry, she believes clergy and politicians share a common purpose-and undergo similar scrutiny. “Any time you serve the public in any capacity, you hold yourself up to scrutiny; this just comes with the territory,” says the mayor. “At the end of the day, the common goal is always to serve the public to the best of our ability, in a manner that is respectful and transparent.”
But what about reconciling the need for Christian charity with the constant slings and arrows of political fortune? “It’s difficult, yes, but, thankfully, this is where faith takes over and provides us with the strength we need to carry on,” McCallion says, citing the adage, “A successful person is one who can lay a strong foundation with the bricks that others throw.”
Her abiding belief provides needed comfort in the political fray. “If it weren’t for my strong faith, I don’t know where I would be,” she says. “Politics is certainly not for the faint of heart, and it is through my strong faith that I can put things into proper perspective.”
Her religious belief is also an important touchstone in the process of making complex judgments. “I often call on my faith when making difficult decisions,” she says. “Putting ourselves in the hands of God provides us with an enlightened discernment about life decisions and helps to draw us closer to him.”
Fortunately, Her Worship has never had to make a make a decision that compromised her Christianity, nor would she consciously do so. “Faith is active, not passive, and when you consciously practise your faith each day, it helps you to make thoughtful, rational decisions,” she says.
Looking back to her 20s in Toronto, McCallion cites the Rev. George Snell, who became diocesan bishop, as a major influence when she attended St. Michael and All Angels. “He was very a strong proponent of youth, and I ended up becoming the first female president of the Anglican Young People’s Association of Canada.”
Today, the mayor is a 40-plus-year parishioner at Trinity Anglican Church in Streetsville. “Given my heavy schedule, it is difficult to be as active in the parish as I would like,” she says, but she tries to help with special projects.
To people of faith entering politics, McCallion issues a warning: don’t sacrifice your faith, but use it to raise the bar in public service. “In today’s secular world, many people of faith feel pressure to hide their faith as if it were something to be ashamed of.” Yet people of faith can make wonderful public servants and compassionate advocates. “We recognize our moral imperative to seek justice for those who don’t have a voice.” That compassion, however, does not extend to suffering fools or mincing words, as many on the receiving end of McCallion’s blunt comments have learned.
For her, a life filled with Christian purpose is what keeps her motivated and energized. “At 92, I regard each day as a blessing,” she says. “Each day that God gives me is another opportunity to do some good in the world.”
Diana Swift is a contributing writer to the Anglican Journal.