After years of competing in the water, Chris Fonseca enters a whole new kind of heat.
Words by Mike Douglas
Her father, an oral surgeon and music lover from the Ukraine, believed that you should serve your community— and if you want things to change you have to get involved. And so a lifetime of working with people to improve their situation began early for his eldest, who began delivering Meals on Wheels with her mother at age 12.
Today at 40, married and a mother of 5-year-old twin boys, Christina (Yaremczuk) Fonseca has become the new City Councillor for well-established Ward 3. The east central ward runs from the Etobicoke Creek on the east to Cawthra Road on the west and from Dundas along the south up to Eglinton Avenue on the north boundary.
Petite and lean, Chris Fonseca shifts forward to chat. The novelty of doing an interview is intriguing to her and she really wants to do well—always has, one suspects. Her early goal was to swim on the national team and she was well on her way when her future changed dramatically after a diving mishap broke her back.
After a year and a half in recovery, at 16 she was out of international swimming for good, so she became an assistant coach, beginning a long relationship with coaching and health.
At the University of Toronto, Fonseca followed an honoured family tradition, touching her grandfather’s path. A U of T graduate, doctor and colleague of Drs. Banting and Best, he was a leading member of the team that discovered insulin and forever changed the way patients manage their diabetes.
Christina took medicine and physiology at U of T and coached the varsity swim team. In her spare time, she volunteered at Casey House, a hospice for HIV sufferers and considered going to law school: “I didn’t really know what career I wanted, I was just looking for a way to work with people,” she says.
She completed her Bachelor of Science and Masters in Medicine and Physiology and was promptly hired to develop a swim program at the new city pool in Brampton. She would go on to become a teacher and leader in coaching nationally, serving as the President of the Canadian Swimming Coaches and Teachers Association from 2000 to 2008. She taught at Humber, created her own health and wellness business in Oakville and while running a marathon, met her future husband, Mississauga’s Peter Fonseca, who had just returned from running for Canada in the 1996 Olympics. They both loved running and working with people in the community and Christina came to enjoy campaigning with him as a newlywed in the succesful provincial election of 2003 and again as a new mother in 2007.
“I remember when I knew politics was different and I was in it. We walked into this little Portuguese bakery and there, blown up big, was a picture of Peter and I from our wedding. Peter had made a poster from our wedding pictures for the campaign. It was funny.”
Today, while her husband considers his political options after losing his bid to become their community’s federal Member of Parliament, Christina follows an ambitious schedule that begins each morning at 4:30 a.m. with a run before breakfast then on to getting the boys up and ready for the school bus. Then Mom heads off to City Hall and the many meetings that make up a Councillor’s daily life.
“The kids have adapted; they love the tree plantings and community clean ups.” she chuckles.
Councillor Fonseca serves on no less than sixteen committees (at last count) including Waste Management, the Airport Authority, the Living Arts Centre, Peel Housing Corporation, Older Adults Housing and Peel Newcomers Strategy. All are clearly important to her but the one she mentions first is the Audit Committee.
“…so I can up close challenge how it could go better, I’m new, I’m learning from the Mayor and other Councillors,” Fonseca explains. “The Mayor doesn’t let anything go. She asks great questions and we have a great team on Council so I appreciate these great discussions that draw contributions and allow us to find the best way to do things.”
One of her goals is to have more homeowners’ associations. While other councillors ask if she is sure, Chris maintains that the voices raised at the Rockwood Homeowners Association led to sound abatement measures for the airport, helped to preserve the watershed, prompted the building of better trails and more, all part of the residents’ ongoing efforts to complete their community.
Many residents in Ward 3 have lived there for thirty years or more and are primarily of Italian, Portuguese, Polish, Ukrainian, Serbian, Croatian extraction. Newcomers are often from South Asia and bring a broad range of new skills and entrepreneurial spirit to the community and she works closely with Regional services to help integrate them into their community.
The reorganization and focus of neighbourhood services is high on the Mississauga Summit’s list of big ideas to help transform Mississauga into something smarter and more sustainably prosperous. This project has attracted the newest member of the Steering Committee. Old ways aren’t good enough for the new Councillor: “Challenging processes is very important to me. Just because it worked that way in the past doesn’t mean it will work best now and going forward,” she asserts. “Management plans have to be tied into long-term best solutions.”
One project near and dear to Fonseca’s heart is connecting young people to seniors and she plans to help instigate a pilot project at Burnhamthorpe Community Centre.
“In Calgary the City offers ‘operation snow angels’ to help with snow removal for seniors and I’m hoping to do that here. Also our pool at Applewood is reopening and we need swimming lessons for newcomers’ kids, so we’ll take advantage of the ‘got skates’ program precedent that worked to get newcomers skating and we’ll see if we can get them swimming, too.”
Sounds like a two-foot putt for this energetic new force on Mississauga’s City Council.