Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hazel McCallion: World's Best Mayor

What can you say about a city that is a magnet for jobs, has great crime statistics and a budget surplus? Missisauga has over seven hundred thousand people. It is the fourth largest city in Canada, a country with a well known penchant for big government and government. She has made Mississauga a magnet for Anglophones who left Quebec when its Francophile policies made them feel less than welcome. She presided ably in 1979 over an emergency evacuation of the town when a train derailed with toxic chemicals on board.

Hazel McCallion has been elected to eleven terms. She is 88 years old. She has a 92% approval rating and a full work schedule with an exercise regimen. She does not pat herself on the back but looks forward to new challenges. In an interview with a reporter, she spoke apologetically of a failure to sufficiently develop public transportation in Mississauga and resolved to work towards correcting the oversight. While she is devoid of false modesty, her pride in her accomplishments seems to be of one piece with her love for Mississauga and its people. Far from showing weariness with her executive duties, Mayor McCallion seems to thrive on them. She credits her demanding regimen and her Christian faith with the robust endurance with which she has been blessed. She is not shy about criticising the government in Ottawa, Canada's capitol.

McCallion has a winning personality that projects well on television. She seems to be a straight talker. The city of which she is mayor would be a good subject for study. Her opponents round out the picture with some allegations of heavy handedness towards opponents. Anyone studying Mississauga should certainly round out the rosy portrait with their dissenting voices.

My personal interest in Mayor McCallion has to do with her longevity and her choice to maintain a regimen that would be taxing to a much younger person. Since the advent of Social Security, there has been strong pressure on people to retire at 65. Far from creating job slots for younger workers, the accumulated wisdom of decades on the work force is often discarded. It is indeed true that a large percentage of workers may want or even need to retire at age 65. This should be a right but not an obligation. Some jobs involving physical stamina might be well suited to earlier retirement, but such decisions should be a matter of individual discretion.

Another option short of full retirement might be preferable. This would be partial retirement. A person who gets a tax free reduced Social Security check and continues to work without income cap can contribute to the solvency of the Social Security system and continue to contribute to its solvency. Improvements in longevity that have tilted the actuarial tables towards old age make this freedom of choice desirable. As an added bonus, employers who provide health insurance and other benefits could be given tax bonuses for effectively lightening the burden on Medicare.

After watching an endearing video of Mayor McCallion, I must reluctantly criticise her in the same way I criticised Mayor Rudolf Giuliani, a visionary man who was easily one of the best mayors in the history of New York City. Both "America's Mayor" and "Hurricane Hazel" used the force of their respective personalities to usher in phenomenal change and growth. But nothing is forever. People move on to other careers and the next world. A pool of leadership that can carry on the mission of a dynamic successor is critical to good government. The greatness of a leader is not only within himself but within the people whose strengths are mobilised for the collective good.
A good leader becomes a perfect leader when they raise a galaxy of rising stars to succeed them. This is for the common good. Unfortunately, it is wisdom borne of a humility that is all too rare in those attracted to public service.

Hazel McCallion has taken political wisdom and turned it on its head. From retirement at 65 to term limits, she has challenged conventional wisdom with her personal example by presiding over a large municipality in Canada, a country hooked on big government. against this backdrop she achieved a budget surplus. When Mike Bloomberg was lobbying for an end to mayoral term limits, he should have had Mayor McCallion record some advertising spots. Many people would have been won over very quickly with her arguments and record.

Canada has a population 10% of America's. Despite this, it is a fascinating subject of study. Mississauga is one such case where Canada has lessons for Americans with an interest in urban civics. Like America for instance, it has an Indian (Native Canadian) population and a policy directed towards them that can and should be compared with America's record. They have made more than their share of mistakes such as high taxes, inflexible policies concerning the French-English debate and high taxes. But they do deserve far more attention than they get from their large neighbour to the south. Thank you Hazel McCallion for reminding us of this.

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