The Volunteer Who Got Paid

Ward 9 Councillor Pat Saito automatically takes
a collaborative approach to community building.
Words by Mike Douglas

 

It’s 11 o’clock—do you know where your Councillor is? If you live in Ward 9 you can bet that your Councillor, Pat Saito, is online responding to residents’ emails or updating the Ward’s informative website.

Prior to her election as a Mississauga City Councillor in 1991, Pat Saito volunteered with the City’s Communications Division, writing, editing and laying out Meadowvale World, a monthly community newspaper. So the fact that this veteran communicator writes the code for her website after midnight is not completely surprising.

Like most City Councillors, it was volunteer work that prompted this mother of three (now adult) children, to run for office. At many of the 9,000 doors she knocked on during her first campaign, Saito found a warm reception because she was a well-known community volunteer who was active in the Meadowvale Residents’ Association, and her fellow residents felt she had earned their support.

“I would come to Council on behalf of the Meadowvale Residents’ Association and seek to save trees or put wires underground, and in 1991 Councillor Ted Southern was retiring and he asked me to run. I talked it over with my husband and I figured I could do more for the community with a vote on Council than I could from the podium.” Saito also touted her experience working with the City and her knowledge of City staff and functions would give her a practical head start. She won the election handily over four contestants and has not looked back.

Pat Saito was the director of the Counter-Act Anti-Vandalism Committee and helped to form the Peel Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Committee. She was also instrumental in founding the Mississauga Crime Prevention Association.

“In 1991 there were 50,000 residents in Ward 9 and the Churchill Meadows were just… meadows. It was  important to me that we have a transit-friendly community and I really wanted to do something different than other communities in Mississauga. We reversed the process and got together to work out a subdivision plan ourselves, and presented it to the developers. We wanted to have parks open to the street and running down the middle of the subdivision. The parks, schools and bike trails run down the spine of the community, and then small parks are sprinkled around the outside so that no one has more than a five-minute walk to a green space. We put the houses closer to the sidewalks and they’re organized in short blocks in a grid pattern, so there is not as much need for driving to a through street. It’s a success story that I’m proud of.”

Since 2006, Churchill Meadows resides in the relatively new Ward 10. From 1991 to 2006, the population in Ward 9 grew by over 100 percent to 116,000, which prompted Council to split the supersized Ward 9 into Wards 9 & 10 in 2006.

Looking back on 20 years in municipal politics, Pat Saito is most pleased about her work in neighbourhood crime prevention and street traffic calming. She is also proud of the youth programs she’s helped to usher in where young people direct what happens, such as the Dam Youth Drop-in Centre, which has given Meadowvale teens and young moms a cool, safe place to hang out in the Meadowvale Town Centre.

Regarding the disdain shown for suburban Mississauga by leading Toronto media sources, the Councillor points to the fact that people in her Ward live in Mississauga and this community because they feel happy here.

Why is that? She begins to answer with a list of features that improve the quality of life in the City’s northwest.

“We have excellent sports facilities and the first performing arts space in the City was built in Meadowvale. We have outstanding year-round theatre and plays which provide a home for a variety of theatre groups to collaborate.”

In June 2011, Councillor Saito tried her hand at mural painting in the underpass at Lake Wabuskayne, where she joined young artists from the Peel Alternative School West in creating artwork that curtails graffiti.

Saito notes that, after the lakeshore trails, there are more recreation trails in Ward 9 than anywhere else. And a few of them surround their two man-made lakes, Lake Aquitaine and Lake Wabukayne, which are two storm water ponds built by developer Cadillac Fairview to re-purpose drainage water from the streets. Granted, Lake Aquitaine (located behind Meadowvale Community Centre) is a catch-and-release lake, but her kids and the majority of kids in Meadowvale have had a lot of fun learning to fish for bass there. The Councillor used infrastructure money to add a “participaction” attraction to its lakeside trail. “I put outdoor fitness equipment around the lake, all on rubber matting, so that people walking by can stop and do a fitness routine. And they do.”

Lake Wabukayne is located off Glen Erin Drive, just north of Britannia Road West, one block west of Erin Mills Parkway. The trail around Lake Wabukayne provides picturesque views of a wildlife sanctuary, hosting blue herons and a great variety of other birds.

“One problem we had with Lake Wabukayne was oil spills. We found that a few restaurants were dumping cooking oil into the storm drains and it came through into the lake. We had to fine one restaurant three times.” Saito is relieved that residents have stepped up to work together and with the City to help protect the lake. They have formed a volunteer stewardship group called the Friends of Lake Wabukayne, which works to raise funds. They also direct improvements to the lake, like adding a butterfly garden and benches, a lookout and planting trees.

Still more improvements are in the works, including adding a new dock and building a floating island featuring plants with deep roots that will grow down into the water, helping to clean it while creating a habitat for fish.

There’s a knock on the Councillor’s door, and our session is over. The representative of a Chinese theatre troupe is waiting. However we make our future, it will come about through collaboration and communication— which is just the way Pat Saito operates.