Maurizio Bevilacqua: Leaving A Legacy Of Leadership
After 34 years of public service, including 12 years as mayor of Vaughan — bringing his city a downtown core, a subway, a university and a hospital — Maurizio Bevilacqua is not seeking re-election.
Choosing a life of public service is a deeply personal and emotional decision. One that comes from observing the world around you, wanting to make it better and then looking into the mirror to ask yourself if you have what it takes to take on the many challenges and effect positive change.
Maurizio Bevilacqua looked into that mirror 34 years ago and found the answer within himself and went on to serve his community with distinction as a leader, change-maker and driving force, including as the three-time mayor of Vaughan. His last two elections he won with greater than 70 per cent of the vote. Th at’s unheard of in today’s polarized world. Th at’s the 1927 New York Yankees of politics.
Belivacqua recently announced he was not seeking re-election for a fourth term and will instead seek out new challenges to conquer. The native of Sulmona, Italy, recently sat down with City Life to reflect upon his career in public service and how he looks forward to new adventures, secure in his legacy, happy, optimistic, joyful and ready to take on whatever his next life chapter may present to him.
Q: Why did you decide to not seek reelection?
A: Well, I think these are very important life decisions. And after much thought and contemplation and meditation I felt that after 34 years of public life I had given a lot to the community and had really answered my call to public service.
But public service manifests itself in different ways. I served when I was president of the student council at York University, when I was assistant to members of Parliament at both the provincial and federal levels, when I was a member of Parliament, a Parliamentary secretary, and when I was Minister of State for Finance. When I engaged in the various campaigns to raise $250 million to build the Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital. There comes a time when you want to give other people an opportunity to serve and to lead the city.
I’m very much at peace with my decision, simply because I think I’m leaving the city in a better state than I inherited it. And the city is now in an excellent position. And I hope the next leader will continue on the same path, and maintain the type of calmness and civility that I was able to bring.
When I was first elected in 2010, the city of Vaughan did not have a subway, a university, a downtown core, a hospital, or a 900-acre park — one of the largest in an urban setting in North America. One of the things I take a great deal of pride and satisfaction in is that after 34 years of public life here in the community, eight out of 10 people approve of the work that I’ve done. That is a testament to the fact that I’ve worked very well with the community, that our values, principles and beliefs were perfectly aligned. And by working together we were able to achieve transformational change in the city of Vaughan, which is the reason why I originally came back from Ottawa. I felt that the city required leadership that could transform its image and I wanted to bring back respect to the city. And I think I’ve achieved all that. And so now it’s time for the next chapter.
You know, I was born in the 1960s, and I think that life is really ebbs and flows of events. And when it’s time to go, I tap into an energy that tells me when to move on. And I think it’s a perfect time.
Q: You made that announcement on your 62nd birthday. Was that intentional?
A: What I wanted people to leave with that night first of all — the theme of the evening — was that one should always live in a spirit of generosity and gratitude, and I got to express my gratitude for many, many things. First of all, a $250-million campaign that I started for the hospital was successfully completed, which is a great cause for celebration. I also showed a video of all the progress we made as a city since 2010. Th e other was that we need to give young people a platform to grow and expand their horizons and be supported by the community. And then the birthday cake was my way of telling people that there is a reason for every season in life, and that’s when I announced that I wasn’t going to be running again in 2022.
And I must say I was kind of surprised by people’s emotional reaction that night — the tears, the hugs, the beauty of all that — because, by nature, I’m not self-absorbed. But, after a few days and upon reflection, the reaction made a lot of sense, because after all, I have been working for this community for 34 years and we’ve shared a lot of love in building this community. It was just an amazing evening, but I do think that it was the right time at the right place for the right reasons.
Q: When you made the announcement, the people in the room were obviously stunned to see you leave this leadership role. They didn’t want to clap. Like you said, you believe in energies — that energy must have hit you hard.
A: I do think that you can only build a city if you love the city. And if it’s for you, the act of creation of the city is a labour of love, right? You can’t fake that. In my years of public life I’ve always made people my priority, and they will always continue to be my priority. There are people born with the propensity to be givers, and I am one of them. We tend to be people who want to take care of people and nurture the human spirit every which way we can.
I will continue to do that in other roles in the future, wherever they may be. Right up to mid-November I’ll be the mayor of the City of Vaughan. And after that, I will be doing what I will be doing. Some people think that you have to always be planning something ahead, but my first decision was “Do I run again?,” not “What am I going to do after?” I tend to trust the universe, and the universe has served me exceptionally well throughout my life. Where you are is where you need to be. So wherever I end up, I’m going to be feeling very comfortable, at ease and at peace.
One of the reasons I painted What’s the Point? was to inspire people to go beyond the immediate and go a little bit deeper, crystallize the essence, the point of life. I’m trying to inspire people to ask the most fundamental question of our existence on earth, invite them to go on a contemplative journey of greater self-awareness. And people may say, “Why is the mayor writing poetry? Why is he designing the Order of Vaughan, the actual pin? Why is he writing a song about the city?” Because this is part and parcel of my love for the city.
I’ve always focused on the fact that the purpose of life is to improve the human condition, not just your own. What you and I share is that we want something to do, someone or some cause to love and something to hope for, right? Life is really about value added and self-respect, so when you get up in the morning, you add that value to yourself, to your family, to your name, to your community and into the world. When people are adding value, they always feel good — it doesn’t matter whether you’re the mayor, whether you’re a journalist, whatever the case may be.
Q: Not everyone in politics puts a deeper sense of what life means at the forefront of how they lead their lives. You obviously have a very self-aware and intuitive approach to everything you do, and mentioned that you were meant to serve people. Where do you think this sense of service comes from?
A: I think you need to tap the energy of divinity. Where do thoughts and emotions come from? Aren’t you picking them up from somewhere? I think that they come from something bigger than us, and that if you align your energy to that energy, you live a life in concert with the universe.
We are a function of how we coexist and exchange our energies, insecurities, weaknesses, fears and doubts, as well as all the strengths we have as individuals. You do have to trust — if you don’t, then you’re always second-guessing yourself, which can immobilize you. For example, I ran for student council president at York University when I was 20, very young relatively speaking. I was ranked fourth out of four, but something told me I could win, so I pursued it. You have to remember that 18 years prior to that I had emigrated to Canada. And so somebody writing my story would say, “No, no, you can’t go from the basement of a house on St. Clair and, boom, to the House of Commons in 18 years,” but it happened. And even when people thought I was going to lose when I ran for the nomination, I did it. Then when I became chair of the finance committee, people thought, “Oh, jeez, that’s going to be hard to get,” but I did that, too. I’ve always been driven by optimism, a sense of purpose and a belief in myself. And so when people said that having the Subway in Vaughan was a pipe dream and were naysayers about the hospital, well, not only did we get a hospital, we got the first smart technology hospital. And when people said, “You will never get a university,” I went to the States and brought Niagara University in Ontario here. So, it’s just a willingness to not give up and to always believe in your mission. As my painting will tell you, What is the point right now?
Q: It has a lot to do with energy and what you put out there.
A: Discernment is the process you go through to arrive at a solution, right? You have to know where you’re getting these feelings from. They can come from a good source or from a bad source, so if you’re uncertain about a decision you’re making, you have to really sit down and think about it. Why am I feeling like this? Why this feeling of insecurity? Or why am I feeling really joyful? You have to figure out both, because joyful states can come from the wrong source and sorrowful states can come from a good source, too.
You’ve got to make sure that you’re tapping into the right energy fields. I believe that we all have it within ourselves to do it if we want to. Sometimes people don’t want to dive in because they’re afraid of the answers or feel really anxious about whatever situation they’re in. Because it’s kind of scary, right? Whereas finding the truth should be viewed as something to be excited about, right? The old cliché is true — the truth sets you free.
Q: Going back to your artwork, is it something you are constantly working on? Are you like President Bush, who basically took up art full time after his presidency?
A: I’ve always had a creative side, whether it’s the song that I wrote for the city, “The Place to Be,” or the Order of Vaughan, which I designed, or a poem I wrote about life, which I think is profoundly important to understand. Art is just another way for me to transmit my love towards my city. And quite frankly, it’s because I am who I am. The opposite of that, being disconnected from my city, my constituents and friends and neighbours, is just not how I function. I’m very much in tune with them. That’s why I love our community so much. It’s very, very much into building something special, and I have witnessed that over 34 years.
Q: So you’re saying that whatever you’re going to be doing post-November will be right for that moment in time. But can you tell us any more details in terms of the vision or map that you’re looking to follow afterwards?
A: I think that after 34 years people in the community know me fairly well by now and have a good sense of me. And that’s why I’m so happy about the approval rating. I feel like my community is my family, and when your family and neighbours and friends are happy with you and the work that you’ve done, it’s a wonderful feeling.
“What You And I Share Is That We Want Something To Do, Someone Or Some Cause To Love And Something To Hope For, Right?”
But what makes it even more wonderful is the fact that I did it with them. So I have a sense of complete well-being and it just reinforces my trust in the universe. It’s an excellent way to live.
You know, in today’s society you could find thousands of reasons to be negative if you looked for them. But we also have to realize that there are thousands of reasons to be happy and joyful, too. So how do you promote positivity? I think you do it by having clarity of purpose, by knowing what your values, principles and beliefs are, and by aligning your actions to those values, principles and beliefs. Whatever I do in the future will be very much in alignment with that. It’s not an issue of re-election or just giving it up for a while — I do think that that was a season of my life and now there’s going to be another season, just as meaningful, purposeful, and productive as the previous 62 years. I’m very happy about that and I’m happy that I was able to share all this with my community.
Q: What inspires you?
A: Th e contributions, the ability to add value to the human experience, to improve the human condition. This interview that you and I are having, for example — we could look at this and say, “OK, this is just a simple interview.” But maybe it isn’t — maybe some of the thoughts expressed will bring awareness or change a few lives for the better. We might inspire people to think, to express themselves in different ways and to find answers to some of the challenges they’re facing. That’s what inspires me.
Q: What does your morning routine look like?
A: As soon as I get up, I have thoughts in my head. I’m a voracious reader, and I keep myself up to date with what’s going on in the world, because, ultimately, we are citizens of the world. My late mother was a seamstress, and from her I learned the state of fl ow, which is a psychological state where you’re deeply immersed in whatever you’re doing in the present. When a seamstress is making a dress, she’s required to be totally focused because everything has to be done to perfection. And that’s how I am in public life, in a state of fl ow, adding value to my community. And my day is very much like that. Whether you’re exercising, reading, having a conversation over lunch or a coffee or whatever you’re doing, you can’t be doing other things. You have to be fully present because otherwise you’ve failed. At the end of the day I do something called “a spiritual examine,” where I review my day and ask myself, “Did my actions bring me closer to light?” When I started, it used to take me a long time. Now I can do it fairly quickly, in 15 or 20 minutes, and just go through my day. What feelings was I having while I was walking in the park or having a conversation or pumping gas? I mean, this sounds kind of silly, but it isn’t really, because what it does is get you into a habit to appreciate your day, and if you do things that you’re not supposed to do you’re reminded of them. And by doing this rapid repetition every day you soon begin to realize that this is the way to a virtuous life, as opposed to, say, a life of vices, or whatever the case may be.
Q: What is your definition of happiness versus success? What is the difference between the two for you?
A: Th e interesting thing is that if your success is not consistent with the higher values of life you can be successful but not necessarily happy. We talk about federal, provincial, municipal infrastructure programs, but the biggest infrastructure programs were not built by us — the sun, the Earth, the wind, nature, that was all given to us. Th e roads and buildings we build are just part of the act of creation. So, happiness for me is the recognition of how incredibly blessed we are to live as human beings in this incredible universe that was created for us. And success for me is the recognition that we were put on Earth to really manifest love, to give of ourselves in a selfless way to improve the human condition. Th at, to me, is what it is.
INTERVIEW BY ESTELLE ZENTIL