Diriger de chez soi: la vie de la mairesse de Mississauga, Bonnie Crombie, pendant le COVID-19

By Kate Graham

When Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie urges residents to practice physical distancing and stay at home, she’s walking the talk.

Her active social media accounts – normally chronicling the Mayor’s seemingly endless schedule of community events, meetings and social functions – now features photos and videos of the Mayor from her dining room table, overtaken by an array of technology.

Mayor Crombie is quick to acknowledge what a dramatic change COVID-19 has meant for her and her colleagues, citing the rapid learning curve to suddenly engage people through WebEx, Zoom, Facetime, Skype and other communications platforms.

“We’re still working, but the pandemic is changing how we’re working. We’re doing it all through technology. It’s amazing what you can achieve – when you have to.”

— Bonnie Crombie,
Mayor of Mississauga

As the Mayor of one of Canada’s largest cities, Crombie has had to manage a particularly acute experience with COVID-19. To date, Mississauga has 1100 confirmed cases and more than 50 deaths (trackable on Mississauga’s handy Coronavirus Response Dashboard). As a highly diverse and multi-lingual community – not to mention home to Canada’s busiest airport – communicating with residents about physical distancing and managing community spread is no small task.

Crombie has risen to the occasion. A series of tele-town halls have reached 50,000 Mississauga residents to date. Frequent media interviews including with multiple cultural outlets reach audiences in multiple languages. Daily Instagram and Twitter videos are seen by tens of thousands of people. Video calls with key community groups including faith leaders, business leaders and social service providers helps to coordinate the community response. Targeted robo-call messages for seniors and before long weekends have reached audiences not captured through other means. Crombie also reached out to well-known Mississauga residents including tennis star Bianca Andreescu, business leader and philanthropist Mohamed Fakih and rock band Triumph to produce videos urging people to stay home.

This is on top of the normal mayoral workload, including chairing council (now via video calls), playing an active role with Peel Region and various agencies, boards and commissions, and work with other mayors such as the Big City Mayors’ Caucus. At the time of her interview, Mayor Crombie had just finished a 700-person video call with mayors around the world through the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative.

All of this – from her dining room table.

“I am very hands on. I enjoy being out in the community and meeting people – so it’s difficult for me to be working from home, and at home,” says Crombie, “but we are finding unique ways to connect with people.”

Crombie jokes that the pandemic has also allowed for a slight relaxation in her wardrobe. “It took a pandemic to get me into blue jeans – but from the waist up, I still have a blouse and jacket on.”

In a crisis where so much of the outcome relies on residents’ adherence to physical distancing requirements, role modelling these behaviours is a vital part of leadership. Crombie not only walks the talk, but has found innovative ways to connect with her community during a time of crisis.

So Crombie’s final words during the interview are not surprising: “Stay at home. Practice physical distancing. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Use hand sanitizer. I feel like I say that ten times a day,” Crombie says, before signing off and heading to her next commitment – another call from her dining room table.

Dr. Kate Graham is the Director of Research at the Canadian Urban Institute