olivia chow mayor

5 things you didn't know about Olivia Chow

When Olivia Chow announced her plan to run for mayor of Toronto, no one was really surprised. The Trinity-Spadina MP had long been connected with a run for the office of the city's chief magistrate, especially during the Rob Ford drug scandals. Without expressing an official interest in the job, polls regularly placed her as the most likely contender to unseat Ford.

Born and raised in Hong Kong until aged 13, Chow and her family fled to Canada in 1970 amid the Cultural Revolution in China. In her memoir My Journey, she described her experience as part of a struggling immigrant family in Toronto's St. James Town.

Chow first became involved in politics in 1981 as an assistant to Spadina MP Dan Heap. She was elected a public school trustee in 1985, campaigning for gay rights, championing anti-racism and native language policies. As a Metro councillor and later city councillor and MP, affordable childcare became an important part of her focus.

Following her first election win in 1991, Chow emphasized the importance she places on working with the public. "If you work with people and organize them, they realize they can make a difference."

She and Jack Layton were forced to abandon their rafting honeymoon

In July 1988, Jack Layton "smashed his kneecap" running into a Financial Post newspaper box on the corner of Dundas and Elizabeth. Layton launched a lawsuit against the city, which placed the box, and the Financial Post for unspecified damages, saying it was too close to the road. The injury meant the newlywed couple, who were due to marry on Algonquin Island later that year, had to cancel plans for white water rafting on their honeymoon.

At the wedding, the pair recited a "long prayer" for Toronto. "This forest of towers of concrete, glass, and steel ... our city, may it look better the closer we get, not the farther away we go," they said.

Was embroiled in a scandal over a housing co-op in 1990

While a school board trustee, Chow and husband Jack Layton were criticized by several councillors and acting mayor Tom Jakobek for living in an $800-a-month subsidized co-op unit on Jarvis St. while earning a combined $120,000 a year. Jack Layton said people of all incomes were encouraged to live together in co-ops, noting the pair paid a voluntary $325 a month surcharge on their three-bedroom, seven-room unit.

Provincial co-op legislation specifically targeted tenants from a range of incomes to avoid the development of slums, the Toronto Star reported. Co-op rents are typically lower because each is set up as a non-profit organization with the monthly fee covering only the cost of maintenance and mortgage payments. Amid the furor, provincial housing minister John Sweeney called it "not an appropriate situation." The pair later moved to a home near Queen Street West.

She was the first Metro councillor of Chinese origin

Olivia Chow was elected in the Downtown ward of the Metropolitan Toronto government in 1991, beating out opponent Storm MacGregor. As a result, she became the first councillor of Chinese origin. During her campaign Chow said she'd "like to bring the community close to the police." Husband Jack Layton lost his bid for mayor to June Rowlands, in part due to the fallout from the housing co-op scandal.

Chow was elected as Trinity-Spadina MP on her third try

NDP candidate Chow narrowly finished second to Liberal Tony Ianno in the 1997 and 2004 federal elections (by 805 and 3,681 votes, respectively). In 2006, Ianno was edged into second. During the election, Mike Klander, a prominent member of the Liberal party, quit after posting a picture of Chow and a Chow Chow dog to his personal blog under the headline "separated at birth." He also said "I think Jack Layton is an asshole" in the same post. In 2007, she was re-elected in Trinity-Spadina by more than 20,000 votes over her nearest rival.

Motioned to allow conscientious objectors to the Iraq War to seek asylum in Canada

In June 2008, Chow brought a motion calling on the government to stop the planned deportation of Iraq War deserters to the United States. She likened the action to the successful bid in the 1960s to protect Vietnam War resisters. "I believe the same thing is going to happen, because Canadian values haven't changed that much, in terms of we are a peaceful country and we want to allow people that would be deported to jail to stay in Canada," the Toronto Star reported.

The non-binding motion passed 137-110 but was not acted on by the Conservative government. The same motion passed again by a vote of 129-125 in 2009. Kimberly Rivera, a U.S. army private who became the first female Iraq War resister to enter Canada, was deported in 2012 and jailed for 12 months for desertion.

See also:

Next week: 5 things you didn't know about David Soknacki

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.


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