Maurizio Bevilacqua, the new mayor of Vaughan, has big plans for his city. With 64% of the vote in October’s municipal election, his constituents have given him their blessing to take the reins and make things happen. Situated just north of Toronto, Vaughan is one of the fastest growing communities in Canada.
Mr. Bevilacqua brings 22 years of federal political experience to the table including several cabinet posts, and he is no stranger to landslide victories. Now 50, he’s gathered plenty of tools throughout his career to help him build the city he envisions.
“Politics is my calling,” Mr. Bevilacqua says. “It’s a people business. Whether I’m working as an MP or mayor, everything is transferable...you are a manifestation of all the experiences that you’ve had, negative or positive.” Whether he’s bringing experiences from the soccer field or from the federal cabinet, he intends to use all that he’s accumulated in his new role. “People are the same wherever you go, they are just motivated by different goals and objectives. In city building, you bring in the collective, you analyze what they need to do, and then you drive it hard.”
Why leave a successful federal path to manage a city with a population of about 280,000? “To go to the place where my skills would better represent the people that I serve,” Mr. Bevilacqua says. “There was a need in the city of Vaughan for new leadership—there was a void in leadership—and I felt I could fill that void given my experience.” He believes that people feel closer to the mayor than to their Member of Parliament, who sits in Ottawa and deals with issues that may not directly relate to their constituents.
Another factor that influenced Mr. Bevilacqua’s decision to run for mayor is the declining role of the federal government versus the cities. With greater decision making authority having been passed on to the provinces in recent years, an MP does not have as much control over the future of their constituency as in the past. But the mayor has increasing influence over everyday life and Mr. Bevilacqua’s role will be “more proactive”; for example, getting transit into the city, bringing in new business, creating jobs, and building infrastructure.
“Cities have become more and more important to regional economies,” he says, and he wants to exercise a role in the greater Toronto area. The city of Vaughan is his priority, but he also intends to establish the GTA as a very important regional economy in the North American context.
Mr. Bevilacqua thinks that the strengths of Vaughan have been overshadowed by the allegations of corruption and infighting, and it is now time to highlight all the good things about the city. For example, Vaughan is ten minutes away from the international gateway (Pearson Int’l Airport), it has a strong manufacturing base, the population is highly educated—well above the provincial average, it is an affluent and generous community, there is a high level of employment, it has one of the highest reserves per capita in the province, and the standard of living and quality of life are phenomenal. According to Mr. Bevilacqua, most Torontonians know little about Vaughan, and what they do perceive is unfavourable due to the negative distortions reported by the media.
One of his main priorities is to show the world what Vaughan is all about and to get rid of the negative preconceptions. He is on a mission to rebrand and to create a world class city. By 2031 the population is expected to have grown beyond 400,000 and he sees the goal of bringing Vaughan to a world class level as “the ultimate reality.”
What does this mean? He says there are three realities in life: a distorted reality, an objective reality, and an ultimate reality. “A distorted reality about the city of Vaughan is that it is ‘a city above the law’; the objective reality would be that there are newspaper articles that actually indicate that and endorse that; my ultimate reality is that the city can become a beacon of character and integrity. In my first term, if I can transform the image of the city within Canada, first and foremost, then I’ve done a great job for the people.” He will start by delivering his state of the city address to Toronto. “You’ve gotta go where you want to change the image,” he says.
As far as leadership goes, Mr. Bevilacqua plans to bring positive energy to his new role. In his campaign he did not resort to attacks on his opponents, which is why he thinks he won by such a landslide. He refused to talk about what went wrong with the city in the past and he never attacked a single candidate. “There are certain universal laws that are eternal truths,” he says. “Human decency will always be repaid. The energy you emit is the energy you get back.”
Mr. Bevilacqua brings a different tone and a different approach to council and though he recognizes that he can’t change the culture overnight, he is up for the challenge.