By Perry Lefko
After 14 years as the planning and building commissioner for the City of Mississauga, Ed Sajecki is retiring.
A longtime resident of the city, both in the north and south end, Sajecki has seen dramatic change, some of that as a result of the work he and his team have done combined with city council and the two mayors he worked for, Hazel McCallion and Bonnie Crombie.
Sajecki talked to Peel Region Review about his time working for the city. He will continue working through the transition to find a replacement, expected to happen sometime in late March.
PRR: What was the City Of Mississauga like when you started working 14 years ago and what will it look like in the future with so many projects about to happen, including the Light Rail Transit that will connect the south end to the north end via Hurontario?
ES: I think when I started, we were just getting to the point where some big changes were about to happen. I think that’s in part because of some dramatic moves that were made by the Province of Ontario, and so it was really a case of how Mississauga would adapt and position itself to work within some of the new directions and new legislation that was coming out from the province. The other thing that was happening was the market was really ripening for the kind of development that we’re seeing. When I started here there wasn’t a lot of condominium development, certainly in the downtown and now you look around and see tons of that. In many ways, I was in the right place at the right time, the market fitting in with some really good public policy and a great council that wanted to work within all of that. Mississauga has been traditionally seen as a suburb, largely built around the automobile and a suburb of Toronto. But today, Mississauga has fully embraced the need for rapid transit going forward. Our city council and certainly the city management and senior staff have seen the need to basically set the foundation for the future and the foundation for that, certainly in terms of land-use planning, goes hand-and-glove with rapid transit. The real flashpoint around all of this was when council and city management began to work on our strategic plan, which has now been around for almost 10 years. It was a couple years after I started here that we saw the need to really look at how we connect the dots about what goes into city building. It’s more than land-use planning; it’s how are we looking at all the fundamentals that go into city building – transportation and land use are part of that – but are we doing the right things in terms of being a green and sustainable community; what are we thinking about in terms of our future economic development and what kind of city are we going to be in terms of diversity, inclusion and being a place where whether you are a senior citizen or a young person or are part of the vulnerable, making sure this is a city that’s inclusive and belongs to everyone?
PRR: Tell us about the five pillars of the strategic plan and what it means?
ES: The five pillars are move, connect, prosper, green and belong. Move is obviously about transportation. Connect is how we connect our communities together. Green is obviously about being sustainable and environmentally friendly and all those sorts of things. Prosper is all about economic development. Belong is really about our social infrastructure and making sure we are a caring city and a place where anyone can belong. That’s led to a whole number of different studies and initiatives. We have an older-adult policy, a youth engagement policy, an environmental master plan, cultural master plan and economic development master plan. I think that is the time when council saw there were so many moving parts that we need to think about and connect and I think they’ve done an outstanding job of that and I think the results show.
PRR: Being a Mississauga resident, what’s it like seeing the plans at city hall evolve right in front of your eyes?
ES: We’ve been in our current Port Credit house for more than 25 years and about 35 years (counting the five to 10 years in Meadowvale). All of our children have grown up through the quality of life that Mississauga provides – a couple of my boys played recreational hockey, my daughters have taken anything from ballet to piano lessons. I’ve experienced firsthand what the city offers and, quite frankly, it’s very impressive. It’s a wonderful city. It’s a great place to live. I used to drive to downtown Toronto often when Go Transit was a one-hour service, but now it’s every half hour. In the future it’s going to be every 15 minutes when they electrify that line. I know when I started here 14 years ago there were a lot of vacant fields in the downtown area. We were just beginning to see condominium development happen, but the area all around city hall was pretty much vacant. One of the game-changers that were really significant was when council decided to redo Celebration Square. It’s quite an amazing square right now. It’s really well used by the people who live in this area. And when Sheridan College came into the downtown area, that was a proactive move by council. We bought the land. And as part of that council determined they would put in Scholar’s Green Park and some more park space. They’ve really spent a lot of time thinking about public amenities because we have some pretty hefty densities in the downtown, but it’s all coming together so nicely because council is really keeping its eye on the ball in terms of everything we already had here such as the Central Library, the YMCA, city hall itself, the art gallery and the Living Arts Centre. But it’s also thinking into the future and how we knit these communities together with public amenities and public open space.
PRR: How old are you?
ES: I never answer those questions. I’m older than the (current) Prime Minister of Canada and younger than (the current) President of the United States.
PRR: What will you miss most about the job?
ES: There’s so many things. I’m going to miss it a lot. I’m going to miss the wonderful, wonderful colleagues I’ve had. The city manager, Janice Baker, has been incredibly supportive and is a true visionary. I’m going to miss the interaction with city council. They threw an exceptional party for me. I have huge friendships. I’m going to miss the excitement that goes into city building because Mississauga, right now, is just on the cusp of doing so much more and I think what has been happening over the 14 years I’ve been here has been quite remarkable and quite extraordinary. The one legacy I would think I’m leaving well is a good foundation and I think it’s there for a lot more to come. The Hurontario Light Rail Transit Line is really part of a network. It becomes the north-south spine that will connect a lot of regional transit and east-west transit. I haven’t even mentioned the discussions the transit around Pearson International Airport, which is referred to as Union Station West. These are early days, but we are in discussions with the airport about that and that in turn has tremendous economic impact. I think the future is incredibly bright. The theme of my going away party was a Frank Sinatra song The Best Is Yet To Come. I thought that was kind of cool. I think the best is to come for Mississauga based on the tremendous foundation of work that the mayor and council and certainly senior staff have done.
PRR: With everything that is going on in Mississauga, why retire?
ES: I’ve got other things I want to do with my life going forward. I’m not going to be unengaged. I want to get involved in some fashion with the city. I love Mississauga and I have a passion for all the softer, social side. I’m really passionate on affordable housing and maybe working with some volunteer groups that would be interested in building some housing for the vulnerable. I think we’ve done a phenomenal job in the city in term of building the infrastructure and the bricks and mortar, but there’s also a softer side around cities that work. I hope to spend some time around how the city can be inclusionary for all. We have a housing crisis and I think we have to address things of that nature. My son David is a city planner and I’m planning on doing some things with him. I get calls occasionally from different consulting companies who have things that I might want to do. But these are things more in the public policy area where you can add some value and make a difference. But I want to say I couldn’t have done all of this without the help of my family.
Photo: Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie and Ed Sajecki at his retirement party. Photo supplied by Mississauga City Hall