In June, Mississaugans will head to the polls to elect a new mayor, who can help set the city on a path to sustainability. Photo of the clock tower at the Mississauga Civic Centre by Rahul Mehta.
In June, Mississaugans will head to the polls to elect a new mayor, who can help set the city on a path to sustainability. Photo of the clock tower at the Mississauga Civic Centre by Rahul Mehta.

Will Mississauga’s next mayor push for density or stick with sprawl?

In 2024, Mississauga turns 50, and is a city at a crossroads. Unexpectedly, a mayoral byelection has landed in our lap. On June 10, Mississaugans will head to the polls to choose a new leader, one with more power than ever thanks to Ontario’s recent “strong mayor” legislation. 

I’m a resident and advocate in Mississauga. In my day job, I lead programs to make walking, cycling, and transit more accessible. Outside of work, I’m asking questions about politicians’ priorities while amplifying solutions through my advocacy project Sustainable Mississauga and, more recently, the new group More Homes Mississauga

As we stare down a multitude of crises — housing, congestion, and climate change — election results in this once sleepy suburb will have implications that reach far beyond its borders.

In December, our previous mayor Bonnie Crombie resigned after successfully running to lead the Ontario Liberal party. In the mayoral race that has ensued, all four leading candidates are current or recent councillors: Stephen Dasko (Ward 1), Alvin Tedjo (Ward 2), Dipika Damerla (Ward 7) and Carolyn Parrish (Ward 5). 

If you’ve witnessed a local election in the GTA before, this probably doesn’t surprise you — incumbents enjoy a heavy advantage. Several other candidates have signed up too, including Peter McCallion, son of former mayor Hazel McCallion, who served an unprecedented 36 years in office.

With no incumbent mayor this time, Mississauga has a chance to chart a new course, or to continue the legacy of Hazel McCallion and the pattern of sprawl she championed. 

Looking at their council record, Dasko has focused on public safety, local arts and community facilities; Tedjo shows strong support for transit and cycling networks; Damerla is keen to build more housing on key corridors and protect renters; and Parrish wants to see strategic infill and low-income communities better supported. 

Divisions emerge when you look at specific votes. For example, council was split on allowing more dense housing, known as fourplexes, city-wide. Tedjo raised the motion, supported by Parrish, while Damerla and Dasko were both opposed. All four have had good things to say about former mayor “Hurricane Hazel,” so we’ll have to wait for them to release campaign platforms to see just how much they’re willing to break from the status quo. At the time of publication, no platforms have been released.

Mississauga’s residents are facing skyrocketing rents and eye-watering purchase prices. A record number of residents are on the social housing waitlist — by 2022, the list had nearly doubled over two years to 28,000. Part of the problem is a lack of supply: suburban cities like Mississauga, Brampton, and Vaughan have all followed a similar pattern, allowing just one type of housing — one and two-storey detached “single-family” homes — to dominate the majority of land designated for residential housing. Home sizes expanded in tandem with the driveways and cars that served them, eating up more land even as the average family size shrinks

Where density has been permitted in our small “downtown,” you see towering condominiums and apartment buildings. This high-density housing is a necessary addition. But it means Mississauga has tall, sprawl, and not much else. Townhouses, multiplexes and small apartment buildings — what city planners call the “missing middle” — are scarce. With few affordable options left, it’s no surprise that our population actually declined for the first time in the most recent 2021 census, alone among the 25 biggest municipalities in Canada. 

The true cost of sprawl, where low density and a shrinking tax base fail to pay for high quality in public services and infrastructure, is only now being realized — and the bill is massive. In 2023, Mississauga faced an infrastructure gap of $52.1 million. That’s the difference between the cost of necessary infrastructure repairs and replacements, and the funding available to pay for them. 

A new strong mayor will have the power to shape budgets, pass bylaws to enable more housing, and select department heads who align with their vision. In Mississauga, that could mean legalizing missing middle housing city-wide. Crombie did this when she used strong mayor powers to push through the fourplexes motion that was originally rejected by council. It could also mean removing the requirement for new buildings to be accompanied by a minimum amount of car parking, and allowing parking lots to be redeveloped into new housing

Beyond housing, a progressive mayor could help realize current plans that are languishing, like targets to divert 75 per cent of waste from landfills by 2034, reduce car use to 50 per cent of all trips by 2041, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. They could shape our annual budget, allocating money to fund these plans and community services that meet the needs of residents — especially our public transit, which has been suffering under pandemic-related service cuts and freezes. 

If we want, Mississauga can become an example of how a sleepy suburb transformed into a sustainable city — one that our still-sprawling neighbours can learn from. The choice Mississauga makes for mayor on June 10 is critical, but the work doesn’t stop there. Building a city that’s just, resilient, and green will need all of us to keep advocating for that vision.

This article appeared in the 2024 May/June issue.