Say you’re an association looking for a speaker for your annual meeting. Who are you going to call? In the case of the Toronto Construction Association (TCA), the choice was longtime Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion.
“Hazel is the number one keynote speaker in Canada,” said TCA president John Mollenhauer. “Some of the things she has achieved are extraordinary.”
Speaking at the association’s 144th AGM and awards presentation, McCallion said she felt “right at home with you folks” having spent 25 years working in the construction industry prior to entering the political arena.
McCallion, who holds a journeyman’s certificate from the carpenters’ union, launched her career in Montreal in 1941 with Canadian Kellogg, an engineering and contracting firm. The following year, she was transferred to Toronto to help set up the local office.
She subsequently worked on such projects as the first synthetic rubber plant in Sarnia and the Lakeview Generating Station just east of Port Credit.
“Construction is in my soul,” she said. “That came in darn handy as we built the city of Mississauga. “
First elected mayor in November 1978, “Hurricane Hazel” has overseen the city’s evolution from a collection of towns and villages into one of Canada’s largest cities.
Home to a mix of commercial, industrial and residential developments, the city now has 734,000 residents and 55,000 businesses, including more than 60 Fortune 500 companies.
“We’ve built an economic base which in my opinion is second to none,” McCallion said.
The city last year issued $800 million in building permits.
McCallion has long maintained that the construction industry in Ontario has made even more of a contribution to the economy than the automotive sector.
“While the automotive industry certainly is important, I believe the construction industry is the one that really determines how successful we are.”
McCallion, honourary chair of the Mississauga Construction Association, said she is concerned “and you should be too” with the estimated $160 billion infrastructure deficit currently faced by municipalities across the country.
“For us to be competitive, in Canada, in Ontario and in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), we have to have up-to-date infrastructure,” she said, noting that congestion in the GTA is affecting the region’s economic future.
“Companies are not going to locate in the GTA if they can’t move their products or their people can’t get to work.”
McCallion, a head table guest for many years at the TCA’s annual Christmas lunch, celebrated her 91st birthday on Feb. 14. In honour of the occasion, the association served a birthday cake at its meeting. TCA represents close to 2,200 firms.