Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie readily admits that her city was “built with a vision that land and gas is cheap,” a concept which for years meant “four-bedroom homes and large boulevards” to carry office workers to Toronto.
But times are changing in Canada’s sixth largest city and Crombie says that Mississauga is now at a ”transformational point” in its history as it “embraces intensification” and begins to build up rather than out.
The signs are visible wherever you look these days.
There is the Lakeview Village development near the border with Toronto along Lake Ontario, where a 177-acre site that was once occupied by a coal plant is slated to be transformed into a mixed-use community that will eventually consist of 8,000 new units of housing, 200,000 square feet of retail and a 20-acre “innovation district,” which aims to become a hub for technology and research.
Immediately to the west, construction is well underway on the 18-kilometre Hurontario LRT, which will provide higher-order transit along Mississauga’s commercial spine for the first time, connecting Port Credit in the south with Steeles Avenue in Brampton.
And along the lake in Port Credit, three cranes tower high above another former industrial site which is also being redeveloped into a mixed-used community.
This one – dubbed Brightwater - is taking shape on a 72-acre site which was once a Texaco refinery but has sat undeveloped since 1985 due to environmental concerns.
Once complete, the two new waterfront developments alone will bring approximately 27,000 new residents and thousands of jobs to Mississauga’s waterfront while helping to transform a city that Crombie admits has sometimes been overshadowed by its neighbour to the east.
But without the necessary supporting investments in roads, public transit and other infrastructure, like schools and hospitals, that sort of density could create headaches for local residents.
That is why this upcoming provincial election is taking on increased importance for Crombie and many Mississauga residents.
“I think the eyes of the world are on us with the amount of development and renewal that is occurring in the city so it is vitally important that we have a provincial partner that will continue to invest in cities and really understand the needs of municipalities,” Crombie told CP24.com during an interview last week. “Certainly the road network in the southern part of the city is very concerning so we do need infrastructure investments to support the GO train, the (Hurontario) LRT and the bus rapid transit line that is planned in order to alleviate the traffic and gridlock that exists today, let alone when these developments will be fully built out…That is what is keeping me up at night. How do I move people in the southern part of our city?
Decision to narrow scope of Hurontario LRT remains controversial
Crombie said that property taxes are not sufficient to “support the infrastructure that is necessary” for all of the development taking place in Mississauga right now.
For that reason, she said that it is important that the next provincial government commit to funding needed infrastructure. She also wants Queen’s Park to consider granting the city of more than 800,000 people its own suite of revenue tools, as it has done for Toronto.
Beyond that, she has a laundry list of other asks for whoever finds themselves in the premier’s chair after June 2.
She wants the so-called downtown loop around the Square One Shopping Centre that was axed from the Hurontario LRT amid rising costs restored – without it she says that she fears a truly walkable downtown for Mississauga will be “unachievable.”
She also wants two-way service introduced on the Milton GO line, pointing out that as a net importer of jobs, more people’s commutes actually end in Mississauga than begin there.
“That train picks up people in Milton and Mississauga and takes them to Toronto in the morning. I need to bring the millennials to work in Mississauga,” she said. “We have large pharmaceutical biotech companies that are adjacent to the GO train station in Meadowvale and can see that station and their employees have to drive to work because the trains can't pick them up in Toronto and bring them to their jobs.
That train runs in the wrong direction. We need it to go all-day, two-way.”
Tories took all six seats in city in 2018
Mississauga has long been a bellwether of sorts when it comes to Ontario politics.
In 2018, the Tories defeated Liberal incumbents in all of the city’s existing ridings en route to forming a majority government.
But in the 15 years of Liberal rule prior to that, the city was a stronghold of sorts for the Grits.
In fact, you have to go back to Mike Harris’s government to find the last time its ridings went blue prior to 2018.
“Mississauga is always quite forceful in saying we're not a suburb. We're not a commuter town. We have, you know, some of the top Fortune 500 companies headquartered here in the city but for some reason, we still are trying to crack that nut in terms of Mississauga being a destination for not only smart business investments and those opportunities, but for talent,” Trevor McPherson, who is the president and CEO of the Mississauga Board of Trade, told CP24.com last week when asked for his perspective on the upcoming election. “We just need some thoughtful programs that address talent.”
McPherson said that Mississauga is entering a period “where it can really come into its own” given the pace of development that is happening.
He would like to see a “cool factor” injected into Mississauga with more walkable neighbourhoods located near jobs, along with cultural amenities.
But he said that in order to truly leverage the development that is underway, government partners also need to invest millions in infrastructure to support and grow the industries that already have a strong presence in Mississauga.
“That's why we're looking at things like wet lab space, which doesn't get a lot of play in the media, but it becomes an issue when a company reaches a certain size in that sector,” he said, noting that Mississauga has the second-largest life sciences sector in the county with approximately 25,000 jobs. “If they don't have the facilities to conduct their research and develop their products than we risk losing them to our competitor jurisdictions south of the border or somewhere else where those facilities exist. So we're really pushing on the province and other private sector players and developers to get involved in supporting the life sciences sector because if Mississauga has a sector that is already positioned for increased growth, success and high-paying jobs it is certainly the life sciences sector.”
Will Hazel’s endorsement influence voters?
All three of the major party leaders have already spent a significant amount of time in Mississauga ahead of the June election, making announcements on everything from gas taxes to auto insurance rates.
The Tories are hoping that they will get a boost in the city after long-time mayor Hazel McCallion endorsed Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford, calling him the “people’s premier.”
But at the same time, it’s clear that some of the campaign platform planks that the party has historically relied on to court voters in the suburbs surrounding Toronto may not have the same effect in Mississauga this time around.
How that all plays out on June 2 is anyone’s guess.
“We think the investments in public transit should supersede the building of super highways like the 413,” Crombie said, repudiating a key aspect of Ford’s re-election campaign. “Let's address gridlock where it exists today, rather than in 2050. Let's address gridlock in the urban areas today.”
Mississauga at a glance
Population – 828,000
What happened in 2018 – The Tories flipped the city from red to blue as they defeated liberal incumbents in all five existing ridings and took the new riding of Mississauga-Erin Mills.
Race to watch: Mississauga-Lakeshore - Progressive Conservative Rudy Cuzzetto defeated Liberal cabinet minister Charles Sousa by seven points in 2018 but the riding has been represented federally by Liberal Sven Spengemann since 2015.
High profile candidates – Two cabinet ministers in the previous Ford government call the city home, including Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction Nina Tangri (Mississauga-Streetsville) and Associate Minister of Digital Government Kaleed Rasheed (Mississauga East—Cooksville).