Five Questions With: Mitzie Hunter, Canadian Politician
Rather than focusing on barriers, she focuses on areas of opportunity
Mitzie Hunter is an accomplished leader with a longstanding career of service and a proven track record of championing the city of Toronto. She has held several high-level leadership positions, including serving as Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of Toronto Housing and head of CivicAction. Mitzie has also held positions in the provincial cabinet as Minister of Education, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, and Associate Minister of Finance. Immigrating to Canada at a young age, Mitzie has grown up, lived, and worked in many parts of the city of Toronto, and through her work, she shares her passion for building a city that can work for everyone.
What inspired you to pursue a career in public service and become a leader in your community?
When I started university, I wrote down one of my life goals: to be a politician. Everything I have done in my career has been in public service — to lift people up, to make things better, to city build. I was lucky early in my career to be influenced by the late David Pecaut who was a true visionary and believed in the potential of our great city. He brought people together, and strengthened what he called “weak ties.”
I was one of the founding co-chairs of the Emerging Leaders Network to establish the next wave of talented leaders for the city of our future, and later, I became CEO of CivicAction, the body that was created out of the original Toronto City Summit Alliance. It just celebrated 20 years, and not surprisingly, every one of its leaders over that 20-year period has been a woman.
This role was the springboard to my opportunity as a Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP) of Scarborough-Guildwood, which gave me the opportunity to be Minister of Education, Associate Minister of Finance, and Minister of Post Secondary Education. City leaders have an even greater impact on their residents than those representatives in the provincial government.
How do you approach decision-making as a leader, and what qualities do you believe are important for effective leadership?
All challenges I’ve ever faced — no matter how big or complex — I’ve been able to look through them and find a resolution by listening and collaborating. I was Minister of Education for the province, I led the creation of a pension plan that pushed for pension reform across the country and enacted the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) for all working Canadians. So, challenges? I bring the right minds into the room and I’m not afraid to ask ‘why not’ and ‘how can we.’ Rather than focusing on the barriers, I focus on the opportunities.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced as a woman leader, and how have you overcome them?
All challenges I’ve ever faced — no matter how big or complex — I’ve been able to look through them and find a resolution by listening and collaborating. I was Minister of Education for the province, I led the creation of a pension plan that pushed for pension reform across the country and enacted the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) for all working Canadians. So, challenges? I bring the right minds into the room and am not afraid to ask ‘why not’ and ‘how can we.’ Rather than focusing on the barriers, I focus on the opportunities.
As a leader, how do you foster a culture of collaboration, inclusivity, and accountability within your team or organization?
There is nothing like political campaigns that depend on collective efforts — mostly of volunteers — to foster a culture of collaboration, inclusivity, and accountability. I’ve run provincially in four straight elections and I rely on talented individuals from all across this city to support my vision for a city that works for everyone everywhere. I understand what it’s like to be on the outside and I want to bring people on the inside of city hall so they can see their needs reflected in their city: in neighbourhoods, transit, parks, libraries, culture and arts, and so much more. Our city and its revival post-COVID rely very heavily on everyone feeling like they belong, that they are part of the community, and are connected to everything this city has to offer, no matter where they live.
How do you motivate and empower others to take on leadership roles and make a positive impact in their communities?
I go back to all the young people. I established a Youth Advisory as MPP. Last election, I had so many volunteers, I created a program called Volunteer Superheroes, and they were excited to participate in the election process. If you inspire people, show what’s possible and lead by example so that they see themselves in the vision for a better future, they can and will believe that they, too, can have a real impact in their communities.
What legacy do you hope to leave as a leader, and how do you want to be remembered by those who have worked with you?
The leader who challenged the status quo and offered change, who brought people from all corners of Toronto to create a thriving city: a place where young people can learn and be their best, where people get around on public transit, and where they get the healthcare and support they need. I want my legacy to be as the mayor who led the city’s revival coming out of COVID and changed the shape of the city, one with beautiful neighbourhoods truly connected to transit and everyone can move around to where they want and need to go safely and affordably.
There’s a lot of conversation around women leaders and burnout — how do you continue to do the work you do without jeopardizing your mental and physical well-being?
I get help and support when I need it, I check in with loved ones, do self-care, read books, and try to eat nutritiously and drink lots of water. My aunt is a nurse, so she gives me great advice and checks in on me. I also go chill in their beautiful backyard every chance I get. It’s a real oasis for me.