23 things you didn’t know about Toronto’s new mayor, Olivia Chow

Former NDP MP Olivia Chow was elected mayor of Toronto on Monday, beating out 101 other candidates in the race. Chow has become the first person of colour to be named the city’s mayor, and the first woman to be mayor since amalgamation.

Chow captured over 37 per cent of the vote on Monday’s election, beating former councillor Ana Bailão by 30,000 votes. She also beat former police chief Mark Saunders — he won just 8.6 per cent of the votes, despite efforts from Premier Ford, who not only endorsed Saunders despite promising not to get involved in the mayoral election but sent out robocalls urging residents to vote for him. 

Bailão also received an endorsement from former mayor John Tory late in the race, and while the endorsement helped close the gap between her and Chow, who was leading the polls far ahead of all 101 other candidates for most of the campaigning period, it clearly wasn’t enough. 

Chow won all of Toronto’s downtown wards, which includes Bailao’s former ward, and five of the six Scarborough wards.

Chow lead in the polls before she even registered to run in the election, indicating that there was an appetite for change in Toronto — the city’s last progressive mayor was David Miller, who left office in 2010. She was most recently a federal member of parliament for Trinity-Spadina serving from 2006 to 2014. She was also a Metropolitan city councillor before amalgamation and on Toronto city council until 2005. She ran for mayor in 2014 finishing third behind John Tory and runner-up Doug Ford.

“People in Toronto are feeling stuck. They’re stuck waiting for the bus, stuck in traffic or stuck on lists for housing, childcare and recreation programs. After a decade of conservative mayors, the city has become more expensive and less liveable for people,” said Chow, when she announced her campaign at a rooftop patio in Chinatown. “We can give in to fear and pessimism, or we can choose to channel our frustration into hope. We can open up city hall and work together to build a more caring, affordable and safer city.”

In her speech after her win was announced, Chow emphasized this message of hope. “If you ever doubted what’s possible together, if you ever questioned your faith in a better future and what we can do with each other and for each other, tonight is your answer,” Chow said.

Here is what Olivia Chow has to say

What was your first job?

In high school, I snapped buttons onto pants as a seamstress in a factory on Spadina.

What’s the worst piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

People told me studying fine arts and philosophy won’t get me very far.

What do you love most about Toronto?

The great ravines, rivers and parks we have here. Our natural landscape and how green it is.

What do you dislike the most?

How stuck Toronto has become. People are feeling stuck: sitting in traffic, waiting for the bus, trying to get affordable housing, or trying to access city services. We can do better – and we will.

Where is the first place you send visitors?

The music garden in the summer, the AGO in the winter.

Where is the best view in the city?

Sunsets, moonrises and the skyline at Ontario Place

What is your favourite special occasion restaurant?

Bar Raval, or a Chinese hot pot place: Liuyishou

What is the last show you saw in Toronto?

The Year of the Cello by Marjorie Chan and Njo Kong Kie, at Theatre Passe Muraille

When was the last time Olivia Chow took public transit in Toronto?

I take the TTC all the time!

Have you ever commuted by bicycle in the city?

I’m a year-round cyclist. I even cycle to some of my campaign events.

Where is your favourite place to get away from it all?

I can often be found camping at our provincial and national parks. I spend my summers camping along a river.

Gardiner Expressway – continue with hybrid option, yes or no?

I would rebuild the small section of the elevated Gardiner, east of Cherry Street, that is in disrepair as a ground-level boulevard instead. It will still connect to the DVP, and we can save construction time, a lot of money, and open up several acres of land for more housing.

Do you support the Ontario Place Thermé Spa project?

No. Ontario Place should be for everyone to enjoy. Instead of spending the hundreds of millions proposed to ready the land for the luxury mega-spa project, we should invest in upgrading Ontario Place to serve as a park for all Torontonians for generations to come.

What is your definition of affordable housing?

No one should be spending more than a third of their income on housing. My plan to build 25,000 rent-controlled homes on city land includes thousands of below-market units and rent-geared-to-income units. Further, our city is rapidly losing the affordable units we have now, that’s why I have a plan where the city can help buy affordable units at risk of renovictions and transfer them to non-profit ownership, like land trusts, to preserve affordability. I will also expand programs that support renters, like the Rent Bank, Eviction Prevention in Community, and the Tenant Support Fund to make sure more people can stay housed.

What more can the city do to help those experiencing homelessness in Toronto?

We can help people secure permanent housing by providing rent supplements. We can help people access services and supports by creating new 24/7 respite centres where people can get meals and showers. And we can expand services by providing funding and working with community agencies and people with lived experience to maximize its impact.

Does the city have a public safety problem? If so, what’s your solution?

People need to feel safe in our city. We can make an immediate impact by expanding community crisis teams city-wide, getting cell service for everyone on the TTC, and shortening 911 wait times. We must also get to the roots of violence and support people by improving access to city services, community programs for youth, housing and mental health services.

Are Toronto residents going to have to pay more in taxes to improve quality of life in the city? If not, what’s the answer?

Every budget process should start with what people in our city need, which services need to be provided or improved. Property taxes and other revenue tools should serve that goal, and people should be able to see their taxes working for them in the form of quality services.

When past mayors and city councillors have failed to use property taxes to cover costs they made life less affordable in our city by increasing program fees and transit fares and they put off repairs to our roads and infrastructure that cost us more today to fix.

I’ve been clear on how I would pay for every policy proposal I have put forward. That includes raising the Vacant Homes Tax and using those funds to support renters, using revenue from a new Luxury Homes Tax on the sale of homes over $3 million to help fight homelessness, a small increase to the City Building Fund to kickstart building 25,000 more homes, and a modest increase to property taxes to fund other important services like improving 911 wait times. I’ll also be a champion for a new deal for Toronto from the provincial and federal governments so we can finally see our tax dollars working for us.

Is Doug Ford’s interference in the city causing a problem, yes or no?

Toronto needs and wants a provincial partner that respects local democracy and puts up its fair share of funding for our city. As mayor, I will advocate for and with the people of Toronto for a fair deal for our city, and continue my track record of working with partners of all political stripes.

What would you say is Toronto’s most iconic food?

We have food from every culture here, that’s one of the best things about our city.

If you were to support a car-free zone in the city where would it be?

Kensington Market. I started car-free pedestrian Sundays there as a councillor.

Is the city doing enough to battle the climate crisis? If not, what would you do differently?

Not enough is being done right now. Climate change is already impacting people across Toronto. In addition to fully-funding the TransformTO action plan, I will invest in stronger resiliency plans to make it safer for tenants during heatwaves, expand access to transit, cycling infrastructure and safer streets so it’s easier and convenient to choose not to drive.

What should be done regarding public transit, the cuts and the low ridership?

If we want to encourage people to use public transit, we need to make sure it’s convenient, safe and affordable. But right now what we have is service cuts and rising fares. I’m committed to dramatically improving transit service, starting with reversing the recent service cuts, and making it easier for people to choose transit to get around our city.

What is Olivia Chow’s best quality?

Empathy.

For more election coverage click here.


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