olivia chow

10 questions for Olivia Chow

After months of campaigning, a seemingly endless series of debates, and countless hours of canvassing, the 2014 Toronto municipal election is finally at hand. On Monday, voters will finally elect a replacement for Rob Ford. Prior to entering the race, Olivia Chow was widely tipped to be a shoo-in for mayor. Even without expressing a formal interest in the role, the Trinity-Spadina MP was polling even with Rob Ford.

At the time of writing, however, momentum appears to be firmly with John Tory. The latest Ipsos Reid poll of decided voters, released yesterday, gave the former Greater Toronto CivicAction chair a commanding eleven-point lead over his nearest rival, Doug Ford. In addition, all four of the city's major daily newspapers have officially endorsed Tory. Olivia Chow, it appears, will have to deliver an epic election night upset in order to return to city hall.

On the eve of the election, I connected with Chow to discuss how she'd improve Toronto and a number of other election issues that haven't received much play. Requests were also made to speak with her main competitors -- John Tory and Doug Ford -- but neither made the time to chat with us.

Grassroots business are crucial to the livelihood of a city, both economically and culturally. What are some businesses you feel make Toronto special?

Urbane Cyclist. I shop there a lot. It's a worker's co-op, it's a very good bike fixing place. Fiesta Farms. Fiesta is the only independent grocery store that's not a chain and there's a wonderful garden opposite to the grocery store, so while you go and buy a loaf of bread and some nachos, or whatever it is you're buying, you can go and buy a plant or something.

King's Cafe is really nice. It's a vegetarian restaurant in Kensington Market. Snakes and Lattes--you can go and play board games there ... I was there a few weeks ago. I wish I had time to play a game. I would like to settle in for a game with some friends. [I ask what she would play.]

Pictionary is fun. Scruples is fun, so you can tell I haven't played board games in a while. Scruples is really old, but it's still fun. Monopoly I play. [Someone in the background suggests Chow should play with John Tory, and she laughs.] Scruples with Doug Ford... or John Tory for that matter.

Are there any ideas that another city is doing that you'd like to introduce to Toronto?

Absolutely, there are two. One is in Chicago. The longer you close a lane, the more they charge you. This is for construction. Right now in the city we have a flat rate, which means you can close a lane for six months, one year, it's still the same rate, which doesn't make sense. Then there's no financial incentive for the developer, the construction company to get the work done faster and thereby opening the lane. So it should be a rate that increases steeply the longer you close the lane. I will borrow that and adapt that policy right here in the city.

The second one [from New York] is called target zero. Target zero is about zero pedestrian deaths. Right now 40 people per year die from traffic accidents and we can lower that number by doing two things: number one to fix the 100 most dangerous intersections, and number two by allowing neighbourhoods to come together.

Let's say if Leaside wants to lower the speed limits of their residential streets, we should allow them to do so collectively through the entire neighbourhood. Currently you can only do one street at a time, which is very cumbersome.

You've come out in support of using ranked ballots in future elections. If they were in place today, who would get your second and third votes?

I'm likely going to support the young lady, Morgan [Baskin] because I just want to encourage her ... I like her style. As for the third, I haven't really thought it through yet. Let's just say I would vote for her second.

If you're elected, will you push for permanent resident voting?

Yes I would. They pay property taxes just as the citizens, and municipal services are available to them since they pay for them through their rents or property tax, so there's no reason why they should not be allowed to vote.

Also, immigration and citizenship is a federal responsibility. The City of Toronto deals with day-to-day services. Whether you're a landed immigrant or a citizen, if you need the police or the fire fighters, you're paying for it, so why shouldn't you be allowed to vote to comment on whether the service is good or who can be your best elected representative.

Ari Goldkind has proposed an aggressive transit expansion plan that includes major infrastructure projects funded through increased property taxes and tolls on the DVP and Gardiner. Is this type of bold funding plan what Toronto needs?

I think it's important that we do have a clear plan. Let me just use the downtown subway relief line as an example, because I think that's also in [Goldkind's] plan... The downtown relief line, the way I'm funding it, during the initial few years as we start the engineering studies we can find the funds, at least dealing with the carrying cost of the project, through the land transfer tax by increasing 1 percentage point on the people that are buying houses that are more than $2 million.

So he and I have different way of getting new revenue. My way I believe is more progressive. When you have more money, you just pay a bit more. Tolls, whether you have money or not, you pay the same rate. I prefer a more progressive form of taxation.

I'd like to ask you about a few topics that haven't been major election issues, but that remain important. The Union-Pearson Express is reportedly going to be one of the most expensive major airport connections in the world. How would you use your influence as mayor to address that?

$30 is way too much. I will go to Metrolinx and say that it's not acceptable. The people that work in this city or live in this city and take the transit out there every day, it should be below $20 or less. I would prefer to see it the same rate as the GO train. $7, $8, or even $10 is OK, but once you get to more than $20 it's way too much. It's not fair for the people that work there, for people that don't necessarily have that kind of income, it's too much.

The by-law changes for Toronto food trucks this year have not been successful, what would you do to make conditions more favourable for Toronto food trucks and to have food trucks more widely available on city streets?

I think the rules are okay but the registration fees may be too high. We need to understand why so few people are applying. The question of whether its 50 metres vs. 25 metres, I supported 50 metres, which was a compromise. 25 metres might be too close to a restaurant. I don't mind reviewing it, but one of the problems could be the registration fees.

Would you consider extending last call in Toronto?

No. I think the existing rule works fine. The only thing is that if there are big festivals, TIFF or some big event, Pride, for example, extending the hours is fine.

Given that you're polling behind John Tory and Doug Ford, if you could start the campaign over, what would you do differently? Would you alter your message?

No, I wouldn't. People are still making up their minds on the weekend, so we shall see. I don't want to speculate about what's going to happen.

Ok, how about a curve ball? Where would you take John Tory to dinner?

I would take him to... hmm... [There's laughter in the background, Chow's team appears to be chipping in suggestions, but I can't hear them clearly.]

The people around me are laughing. A steak house? That's a bit boring. We can do better than that. Who's paying by the way? [I say John Tory.]

I don't go to restaurants that are in his league. Free Times Cafe is pretty good. Free Times Cafe over at College and Spadina. It's a Jewish place. It does a good Jewish brunch on Sunday morning. I like Judy [the owner.] She and I go way back.

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

Photo from Olivia Chow's Facebook page

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