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The Life of a Mayor

October 3, 2008 by  
Filed under Special Features


During elections, voters face the dilemma of choosing the right leader for their community. The next time you cast your ballot, take into consideration the words of Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius: “A man cannot govern a nation if he cannot govern a city; he cannot govern a city if he cannot govern a family; he cannot govern a family unless he can govern himself; and he cannot govern himself unless his passions are subject to reason.”

King township

A Source of Wisdom: Margaret Black
Written By Stephanie D’Angelo

Protected by the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Green Belt, the township of King, which includes King City, Nobleton, and Schomberg, serves as home to nearly 20,000 residents. With herds of prize cattle and many prestigious horse farms dotting the rolling countryside, King is revered as being safe, clean and picturesque. “The thing I love most about King is that we are a very

community-oriented group, and people really watch out for one another,” says Margaret Black, the mayor of King township.

With Black in charge, the town has come a long way. She and her team have developed forward-thinking community plans that restrict new growth, and detailed designs for new commercial areas. They have also put strategic environmental plans and risk-management policies into place. “I have to say that I am very proud of our team,” says Black. “We have an excellent staff that is very committed to the community.”

Although focused and driven, the self-proclaimed movie buff and chocolate lover always makes time for her number 1 priority: family. “I work long hours, so we have a pretty crazy schedule at home, but we’ve adapted,” she says. The proud mother is happy to say that she has maintained a close relationship with her two sons. “Today I received phone calls from both of my sons – 26 and 27-year-old men, who still call me if they need something – I think that’s wonderful.”

Black has also guided others with her inspirational advice. As an alumnus of St. Thomas of Villanova College, I had the privilege of hearing Mayor Black speak at my high school graduation. Her uplifting words and motivational story resonated with each of the graduates, and helped me feel more prepared for the educational and professional journeys I have since embarked on.

A dedicated leader, Black also spends much of her time on charity efforts, enthusiastically championing and supporting several community and environmental   organizations, including the Mayor’s Charity Golf Challenge, which assists children with special needs, and the York Region Community Foundation, which has set up a fund to support future Olympians.

It is this dedication to her community that Mayor Black is most recognized for. And she encourages her people to show the same degree of commitment toward each other. “If every citizen did even a few hours of volunteer service every single year, it would substantially assist our community,” she says. “I’ve seen some wonderful kindness in our city, people doing what they can to help out their neighbours, and that’s what community is all about.”


The People’s Mayor: Tony Van Bynen
Written By Michael Mannella

It’s a place where you find the time to talk to your neighbours, where people feel safe and welcome. Despite a population of 86,000 people within a dense 14 square miles, Newmarket boasts environmental leadership, affordability, and a community that really cares. And behind all that, is a simple man of the people.

Mayor Tony Van Bynen, who’s lived in over a dozen municipalities during his lifetime, has come to cherish the community he now leads. “It’s a community that really cares,” says the 58-year-old, who started his career as a printing press operator and baker during high school.

“It’s the volunteerism that just overwhelms me. People are committed to hockey and soccer leagues, and work for the blood donor clinic. We have more run and walk-a-thons than the city of Toronto … our people care about making a difference in someone else’s life.” For the past five years, Van Bynen has been volunteering at the Inn From the Cold winter shelter, where he makes sandwiches, settles people into shelter, arranges for clothing, and cleans up after visitors.

Growing up on a farm with five brothers and five sisters, Van Bynen is no stranger to hard work and helping out. Taking a vacation once every three years, he dedicates most of his time to public service. “Actually, I am due for a vacation,” he admits, “but there’s just been a lot of projects that I’ve wanted to get advanced during the summer months.”

Even though as a child he thought of being a poet or rock star, the mayor eventually settled into banking, where he devoted 30 years of his life. “The thing I learned from being a printer, baker, and from my years in banking is that I get my greatest sense of achievement in helping others succeed, and that’s the principle I live by.”

After retiring from the banking industry, Van Bynen ran for Newmarket’s town council. He spent three years as a councillor, and another three as regional councillor.

The mayor says his leadership style reflects the people he respects most. His inspiration comes from three famous leaders, all from different time periods. “I very much admire the Dalai Lama, because of his way of listening. Martin Luther King Jr. is someone whom I admire for his social justice. And when I think of John A. Macdonald, I think about the man’s vision on commitment and how to build.” Van Bynen’s three choices reveal a man who’s dedicated to his people. “I come back to the golden rule: We need to listen to all perspectives.”


Driving the City Forward: David Miller
Written By Simona Panetta

“We’re trying to make Toronto a city that blooms with prosperity,” says Mayor David Miller, while on his way to make a public announcement on repairing Toronto community housing buildings.

With the end of summer and the slow pace it brings, Miller is picking up speed this fall by tackling the core demands of Canada’s largest city.

“The biggest challenge is meeting the needs of Torontonians in the 21st century based on a government model from the 19th century,” explains Miller. “In a modern world, cities [are] where the new economy is happening, where the jobs are being created, where people want to live.” Toronto only sees five per cent of the money raised by taxes.

Working on a forward-thinking agenda that centres on revitalizing Toronto, while fulfilling his roles as a father and husband, Mayor Miller has his hands full.

“I try to do everything, which means that seven days a week I’m at events. That’s very difficult and puts immense stress on marriages and families,” explains Miller, who was recently criticized for his brief appearance during the Sunrise Propane explosion in Downsview this past August. “[But] my office is ruthless about making sure that I have some time with my family … We have at least one holiday in the year that is special for us,” says Miller.

A strong-minded leader by reputation, Miller’s effort to push for a ban on handguns demonstrates his worry for the safety of Toronto’s youth. “I’m a dad, and once you become a dad, you’re always, always worried about the safety of your children.”

Born in California and raised in England by his mother, the Millers came to Canada in 1967. “I think that we are unique in the world in how we welcome people, the way I was welcomed as a boy … Torontonians recognize that although newcomers change us a little bit … it makes us all better, stronger, and more interesting.”

As a child, Miller always dreamed of being a bus conductor. “I went to school on a double-deck bus everyday, and the conductor had a great job, and that was my first job,” says Miller. Since then, Miller attended Harvard University and the University of Toronto, where he received degrees in economics and law, respectively. While working as a partner in a major law firm, he decided that “the city was going in the wrong direction,” and so, he decided to enter politics. “I am very proud of the steps that I have taken … We’re transformed the city government, we’re transforming the city and doing it in a way that creates wealth and opportunities for those who need it the most … That’s what I am going to keep doing,” says Miller.


Through Thick and Thin:Linda Jackson
Written By Simona Panetta

For years, the last name Jackson has been synonymous with municipal politics. So when Linda Jackson stepped in as mayor of Vaughan in 2006, she was given the opportunity to continue a family legacy with her political prowess.

She was just 15-years-old when her mother, Lorna Jackson, was first elected in 1974 to council. The Jackson household teemed with political discourse: how to bring about change; the importance of volunteerism; the magnitude of public service.

Naturally, a young Linda grew an interest for public affairs, and entered the political arena in 2002, when she was first elected as a ward councillor in a by-election. Her mother passed away in office that same year, making her Vaughan’s longest-serving, most community-involved mayor. “Running the city was still a huge priority for her right up to the end,” remembers Linda.

During her tenure, Lorna oversaw the rapid growth and development of Vaughan, which transitioned from a town into a city in 1991.

Today, Linda continues her birthright by drawing inspiration from her mother’s life work. “Being able to help people is the most important thing,” says Linda, who serves on the Vaughan Health Care Foundation and the York Region Abuse Program, to name a few.

“I learned a lot from my mother. I want to certainly honour her legacy, but also create my own,” says Linda.

Some of her initiatives include expanding environmentally friendly services, and ensuring that the plan to erect a hospital in Vaughan goes through.

“I want to make Vaughan a livable city … I want people to able to feel like they can work close from home, have access to world-class community centres, and have a high-quality of life.

Vaughan’s significant growth over the years has deemed it the fastest-growing municipality in Canada, with an influx of 1,100 new citizens settling into the area each month.

And with a busy city comes a busy mayor’s office. “It certainly is a 24-7 job,” says Linda, who works around the clock attending meetings, responding to citizen inquiries, and attending evening commitments.

Despite her efforts, Linda’s reputation in the community has waned due to a June 2008 audit, which revealed that her 2006 campaign finances may have exceeded her legal spending limit. Standing her ground, Linda says she keeps composed and confident with the help of her family’s support. “If people are saying things about you that maybe aren’t true or correct, you need to be able to have a thick-enough skin to be able to take it,” says Linda. Ever the optimistic, Linda admits that although it is a challenging time for her, she has the ability to turn a bad situation into a positive experience. “I think it’s made me a stronger person because it has made me realize that you don’t sweat the little things, try to look at the bigger picture and move … and don’t let it get to you; don’t take it to heart.”

Richmond Hill

Leading with Kitchen-Table Lessons: Dave Barrow
Written By Michael Mannella

Living life certainly has its challenges. And for Dave Barrow, mayor of Richmond Hill, there is no exception to the rule. For the 61-year-old man, father, and grandfather, life has been busier than ever.

Taking on a leadership role in Richmond Hill is a unique experience, says the experienced Barrow. It’s “a smaller community, and more close-knit,” he remarks. And usually, unique experiences bring unique responsibilities.

“We have a concern for our history, to make sure that it is not forgotten. We have a concern for our environment, to do all we can to protect it and enhance it.” Passionate about the town he loves and knows so well, Barrow leads with an eye to the future. “We want to protect the community … and not just build for today. The challenge is to try to find a balance,” he says.

Guiding Richmond Hill with his verve and commitment, Barrow fully accepts that the position of mayor is more than an average nine to five job. He serves the residents of his community by working 12-hour weekdays, along with weekend events. By fulfilling his responsibilities to the community while finding time to spend with his wife, children, and grandchildren, Barrow sets a motivational example for his citizens to reflect on. “I think we should be responsible for our own actions. I grew up at a time where my mom, dad, sister and I all ate dinner together. Some of those
kitchen-table lessons were the ones that stayed. I think every parent should teach their children responsibility.”

Born and raised in Richmond Hill, Barrow was involved in his family’s business for years when he decided to enter municipal politics more than a decade ago. During this time, Barrow remembers thinking that he might want to do more. “ … [I thought]: ‘Someday, I can be mayor, and I can be a good mayor, and lead the council and the community.’ ” From that point, he earned his title through a long process, serving first as councillor, and then as regional councillor.

Barrow praises the actions of his late father, Elgin Barrow, who taught him the importance of giving back to society with his dedicated involvement in the community. “My father is somebody that I admire … I admired the way he took calculated risks, but was also a man that was up for anything,” says Barrow. Following his footsteps closely, Barrow extends his father’s legacy by taking part in numerous community initiatives. He is the founding member of Richmond Hill Community Sport Council, Richmond Hill Intercultural Committee, and Richmond Hill Terry Fox Run, to name a few. The Elgin Barrow Arena Complex in Richmond Hill was named after Barrow’s father.

With the challenges that come with a lifestyle in municipal politics, Barrow is glad to have his wife, Tomye Anne, by his side. “I remember my wife saying: ‘Be yourself. Don’t try to be someone you’re not, or someone that people want you to be.’ Since then, I haven’t tried to follow anybody’s leadership style. I am a person that tries to get consensus, and I try to make sure everybody can get involved.”


Taking Mississauga by Storm: Hazel McCallion
Written By Michael Mannella

An accomplished woman and a beacon in her community, Hazel McCallion is an inspiration to people everywhere. As Mississauga’s first female mayor, she’s led Canada’s sixth largest city for 30 years, overcoming trials and tribulations on a daily basis. She is 87-years-old.

Starting her first job in Montreal with Canadian Kellogg, a construction and engineering company, McCallion was exposed to the world of industry and infrastructure from the beginning of her career.

Today, residents of Mississauga would agree that she has brought a number of her acquired skills to the table. “I tried to look after people,” she says. “I made sure the businesses that came into Mississauga had the services they needed to be successful, and that families could raise their children with the amenities that were necessary.”

McCallion, affectionately nicknamed “Hurricane Hazel,” began her political career in 1968, when she was elected deputy reeve of Streetsville. Although she tried to keep the town separate from the Region of Peel and Mississauga, she eventually ran for mayor when the municipalities were reorganized. McCallion became mayor of Mississauga in 1978, after serving two terms as councillor.

Since then, her goals have been constant and unwavering. “My objective is always to keep Mississauga the great city that it is, and keep moving forward.”

Her constituents seem to approve of her philosophy, with over 90 per cent of votes supporting the mayor in each municipal election. Not only has McCallion established one of the first pay-as-you-go ideologies in her city, she’s also avoided donations and expenses in recent elections. “I believe in running our city like a business and remaining debt-free.”

The mayor speaks her mind, especially when it comes to improving Mississauga. This year, she’s backing a campaign called Cities NOW! The program points out how the federal government pushes the responsibility of infrastructure onto Canadian cities. McCallion openly encourages everyone to learn about this important campaign.

Involvement is probably one of the most important messages the mayor advocates.  “Get involved in your community,” she says, “whether through your local ratepayer group, or by joining one of the city’s many citizen committees.”

Being true to her example, McCallion dedicates an average of 80 hours a week to her city. “I don’t take much time for vacationing or recreation,” admits the mayor, who hasn’t taken many breaks since her husband’s death in 1997.

When she can rest, McCallion looks after her house, yard and garden, and once in a blue moon, she finds time for fishing.


Great Minds Think Early: Frank Scarpitti
Written By Michael Mannella

For Mayor Frank Scarpitti of Markham, politics came at an early age. Tracing his leadership abilities back to high school, you could say his career began when he was elected student council president. “Maybe it was the beginning,” the modest mayor admits. “But it wasn’t something I set out to do. What I actually wanted was to be in the media as a broadcaster.”

In Grade 11 history class, the mayor remembers doing his first interview for an assignment. “A music radio station, called CFTR, had a feature news program on aliens, and I called down to Clearwater, Fla., and asked a professor if he wouldn’t mind me interviewing him.”

Starting his career in York Region, Scarpitti eventually joined CFMT and hosted a show on business and politics. Interviewing a number of city councillors and mayors, he gained further insight  into the political arena – insight he would one day put to the test.

“I was in the media, and the mayor then, Tony Roman, spoke to me and said, ‘You know, Frank, you should really get involved in Markham council.’ ” Scarpitti decided not to run in the next by-election, feeling too young and inexperienced. But the following year, Roman came back to push a little harder. “He said, ‘Listen, I mean it. You’ve got to run, and you’ve got to get involved in local politics.’ ”

After being elected mayor of Markham, Scarpitti made some sweeping changes. He hired an auditor general to work outside the city staff structure, to look at municipal processes, evaluate projects, and make recommendations on how to save taxpayers’ money. Presently, the mayor and city council are pushing for more money from the provincial and federal governments to support rapid transit.

The mayor’s political skill isn’t the only thing he learned from childhood. His commitment to community comes from the people he loved and respected. “I would say I got it from my parents, that caring for individuals. They came here in 1965, and I can’t help but look back and say, ‘Thanks mom and dad for moving to Markham.’ ”

Today, Markham has come to appreciate Scarpitti in much of the same way. During City Life Magazine’s photo shoot, passersby stopped to greet and talk with the mayor. “Some would probably say my weakness is that I don’t know how to say no to people. I’m determined, and certainly friendly and approachable.”

His work ethic has undoubtedly played a role in his success as a leader. “I don’t really put anyone’s success in fate,” he explains. “I think it’s just how we all handle opportunities that are presented to us.”  When asked if he fears anything, Scarpitti explains, “At this stage in my life, I don’t spend a lot of time fearing things as much as I just wish the best for people.”

His empathy for others is no exception when it comes to family. After working 15-hour days, six days a week, the mayor unwinds with his wife and three children. “Good company, good jokes and being with family make me happy.”


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