By Romina Monaco

Often, and quite unexpectedly, I find myself in his presence. Whether it’s at an awards ceremony, fundraising event or a grand opening of a local business, I’m quick to notice his innate ability to connect with all people no matter their age, education, culture or creed - along with the sincere interest he takes in them. It seems only natural that this public servant’s journey would lead him to a vocation that includes a more intimate involvement with community. This is the reason why I now fondly refer to Maurizio Bevilacqua as ‘The People’s Mayor’.
Since 2010, after resigning from an illustrious 22-year career on Parliament Hill, this born leader has chosen to dedicate himself to solely to one purpose, serving the people of the City of Vaughan. Not an easy task considering this former village on the outskirts of Toronto is now the fastest growing city in Canada, boasting a population of over 300,000. Anyone residing in a growing urban centre knows that rapid growth can result in traffic congestion, environmental degradation, a deficiency in social services, shortage of employment opportunities as well as a lack of community feel and unity.

Although Vaughan has endured this transformation, the city has also had to deal with the political debauchery of its previous incumbency, which was tarnished by allegations of dubious inconsistencies relating to municipal spending. This matter strained public confidence and tainted the city’s reputation. Disgruntled citizens were ready for change and Maurizio, who had already represented this constituency in the House for over a decade, was the answer. The demand and urgency for responsible governance along with Maurizio’s reputable standing won him the municipal election.

‘There’s a new attitude in Vaughan – one of hope and excitement for the future’ he reassures guests at the Mayor’s Gala this past June. As his confident, calming presence permeates the room, he speaks of development and prosperity. His vision of a functional, modern city along with the goal of increasing public morale is already evident in the numerous exciting changes he is manifesting.

Just weeks after taking office, Maurizio implemented a freeze on the salary of council members along with the application of a superior code of ethics, The Vaughan Accord, for all members and city staff to abide by. He has increased social services and job creation by successfully attaining provincial approval for the building of Mackenzie Vaughan Hospital. 'We’re moving forward with purpose and direction' he says.
Previously known as the City Above Toronto, the Mayor has created a new slogan and now Vaughan is the The Place to Be. Corresponding with this new feeling of autonomy, he has spearheaded the future development of a Vaughan downtown core that involves the continuation of the Downtown Toronto subway line to the new Vaughan Metropolitan Centre. This centralized entertainment, arts, residential and business area will be located on Hwy 7 west of Jane Street, with full completion by 2031.
Maurizio’s modus operandi is based on his humanitarian spirit. He has begun a new tradition at the Annual Mayor’s Gala - a live auction with 100% of the proceeds going to non-for-profit and community organizations. This year, ‘Dinner with the Mayor’ finally settled at a whopping $130,000, which was donated to the development of the new hospital. A philanthropist at his core, he believes goodwill must go beyond our borders. One of the many causes he supports is The Olive Branch for Children, which raises funds for the building of the Wambilo-Vaughan Montessori Kindergarten in Tanzania, proving indeed that his words correlate with his actions. When I asked Maurizio his views on being Canadian he referred to Canadian citizenship and described it as, ‘a people that are caring, compassionate and reach out and understand that there is a common purpose. Canadians manifest a spirit of generosity’.
As an Italian Canadian it’s impossible not to have heard of the People’s Mayor. To many of this ethnic background he has become synonymous with progress. Over the years I’ve followed Maurizio on his path, quietly observing with pride, his rise to the pinnacle of political success. As for being an Italian Canadian, his thoughts come from an even deeper place, ‘Canada’s true spirit of determination and compassion lies in its foundation, a foundation based on immigration. Where once we were building wine cellars, we’re now building the Art Gallery of Ontario’ he smiles. ‘Different. But with the same spirit’.

Arriving in Canada in 1970 at the age of 10 from rural Sulmona, Abruzzo and settling in Toronto, his devotion to public service was a calling that came early in life. From altar boy to valedictorian at St. Roch’s Catholic School, to the President of the Forgotten Corners Resident’s Association (an organization which focused on the needs of the Finch Avenue/Islington Road area of North York), he also went on to become the first Italian Canadian president of a university student council. His years at Emery Collegiate and later, York University were a metamorphic time. During this period his interest in politics soared, resulting in a position with former Toronto City Councillor and MP, Sergio Marchi. Eventually he took the giant leap to Ottawa and in 1988 joined the Canadian House of Commons as a Liberal Member of Parliament, while also serving as a Secretary of State.
Other than his background, many of his values and principles are based on Taoism, an ancient Eastern philosophical doctrine centred on ethics, humility and harmonious living. Always available to give a few words of wisdom he once told me, ‘Recognize and be clear of your life purpose. Clarity creates actions that will always align with your core values, principles and beliefs’. Adding, ‘If you do something that just doesn’t feel right then you’re veering from your path and your purpose’. It occurred to me then that his pragmatic and altruistic approach toward leadership exemplified these teachings.

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