Monday, April 17, 2023

Olivia Chow enters Toronto mayor’s race. Here are her top priorities

Olivia Chow enters Toronto mayor’s race. Here are her top priorities

Former city councillor and NDP MP ended months of speculation and launched her campaign because Toronto is no longer the ‘city of hope’ she grew up in.

Olivia Chow shook up the mayor’s race on Monday as the latest high-profile challenger on the left to join the campaign. The next 10 weeks could determine whether she emerges as the champion for Toronto’s progressives, or a spoiler who helped dash their hopes of recapturing city hall.

After weeks of speculation about whether she would sign up for the June 26 byelection, the former city councillor and New Democrat MP launched her bid at a rooftop restaurant in Chinatown.

“We urgently need to build a city that cares,” she said, pledging to work with residents to create a Toronto that is “safer, more affordable, (and) where everyone belongs.”

Chow’s strong name recognition ensured she immediately became one of the highest-profile challengers vying to replace John Tory, the former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader who occupied the mayor’s office for more than eight years.

The crowded field features a handful of well-known centrist and centre-right politicians, but until Chow’s entry it lacked a big name capable of serving as the standard-bearer for Toronto’s NDP-affiliated left.

That dynamic means Chow will likely compete for the support of left-leaning residents with the likes of Coun. Josh Matlow (Ward 12, Toronto—St. Paul’s), the self-described “pragmatic progressive” who has been polling strongly in the early stages.

Minutes into her campaign, Chow faced questions about whether her candidacy risked splitting the left-wing vote and paving a path to victory for a more conservative contender.

Among the high-profile candidates already registered are former police chief Mark Saunders, who previously ran provincially for the Ontario PCs, and Coun. Brad Bradford (Ward 19, Beaches—East York), who has prominent Conservative strategists on his team. Scarborough-Guildwood Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter as well as former Davenport councillor Ana Bailão, who has Liberal ties and the support of several major labour unions, are also considered prominent challengers.




Chow insisted she wasn’t worried about competing with fellow progressives, and was instead focused on helping residents who have no money left for groceries after they pay rent, or who are turned away from overflowing homeless shelters.

“I’m not worried about splitting votes ... I’m worried about them,” she said.

Matlow wouldn’t speculate about how Chow entering the election could affect his support, saying that’s a job for pundits.

“We haven’t had a very competitive mayor’s race in many years. So I think it’s very healthy that so many people want to run for mayor, and I hope that this election is a genuine contest of visions and ideas to improve our city,” he said in an interview.

At her launch event, Chow recounted that when she and her family emigrated from Hong Kong in the 1970s, Toronto was a “city of hope” where her mother was able to support the family with her single income from working as a maid in a hotel.

Now, home ownership is out of reach for many residents, and households spend more than a decade stuck on the waiting list for subsidized housing.

“We have to make a city that is more affordable,” said Chow.

She asserted that residents feel “stuck,” whether it be sitting in traffic, struggling to find their kids spots in child care and recreation programs, or waiting on hold when they call 911.

Chow promised to release a full platform in due course, but reiterated her opposition to plans for a “mega-luxury spa” at Ontario Place, and vowed not to use the city’s new strong-mayor powers to overrule council. She wouldn’t say whether she would raise taxes, but called on the provincial and federal governments to do more to support the city financially.

Starting in 1992, Chow served 14 years on council, and she served as MP for Trinity-Spadina between 2006 and 2014.

But she was unsuccessful in the two most recent elections she contested in Toronto. She entered the 2014 mayor’s race as the favourite before finishing a disappointing third behind Tory and Doug Ford. The following year, she was defeated in the federal election in Spadina—Fort York as the Liberals swept the city.

In 2016, Chow, who is the widow of former federal NDP leader Jack Layton, founded the Institute for Change Leaders, which trains activists in political organizing. She said wrapping up projects there delayed her entry to the mayor’s race. Nominations opened April 3.

In an interview Sunday ahead of her announcement, Chow said she was determined to learn from the mistakes of her previous mayoral campaign, when self-consciousness about speaking in English, her second language, led her to rely heavily on written speeches instead of spontaneous remarks. She pledged to present voters with a more authentic version of herself in this campaign.

“I will do better this time,” she vowed.

Michal Hay, executive director of left-leaning think tank Progress Toronto, will be Chow’s campaign director, while Ira Dubinsky, who did communications for Layton while he was leader of the federal New Democrats, is serving as an adviser. Former Ontario NDP media relations officer Shirven Rezvany is also on her team.

As of Monday, 48 candidates had registered for the byelection, which was triggered after Tory resigned in February over an inappropriate relationship with a member of his staff. They include sitting councillor Anthony Perruzza (Ward 7, Humber River—Black Creek), former council members Rob Davis and Giorgio Mammoliti, former Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, and policy analyst Chloe Brown.

Gil Penalosa, an independent progressive who placed a distant second to Tory last October, has yet to register.

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