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Olivia Chow confirms she’s considering mayoral run

The former NDP MP confirmed to the Star that she’s strongly considering joining the race as supporters tout her experience training activists in political organizing.
March 28, 2023
David Rider

Olivia Chow is confirming a Star report that she is pondering a run for mayor, saying Toronto can be “so much better.”

The former NDP MP and city councillor responded in a brief statement, on Sunday, to Star inquiries about her potential mayoral candidacy.

“I want to let you know I am considering running. I love this city and I know it can be so much better -- for everyone,” wrote Chow, would become one of the highest profile candidates in the forming, crowded race to replace John Tory.

In a story published last Wednesday, sources close to Chow said advisers were urging her to run given that other potential NDP-aligned candidates, including former councillors Joe Cressy and Mike Layton, had declined overtures.

Amid what promises to be a host of centrist and right-leaning candidates splitting that vote, Chow could target her message to progressives and potentially win with 30 per cent or less citywide support, one political organizer said.

Other progressives expected to run, with a goal of ending 12 years of right-leaning rule at city hall, including urbanist Gil Penalosa, who finished a distant second to Tory in last October’s civic election, and Coun. Josh Matlow.

While Chow herself did not respond to an interview request, some of the people encouraging her to run did agree to speak on the record.

Kofi Hope, chief executive of strategic advisory firm Monumental Projects and an adjunct professor at University of Toronto’s School of Geography and Planning, helped Chow’s 2014 mayoral bid that ended in third place to Tory and now-premier Doug Ford.

“Her response to that campaign, which didn’t meet expectations, was to get out into the grassroots,” and form Institute for Change Leaders, a non-profit that has trained activists in political organizing since 2016, Hope said.

“It’s the real deal with Olivia. She didn’t just kind of go off to sip champagne with elites. She’s been on the ground with working class people, with racialized folks, with Indigenous folks, with folks who are really struggling, and helping them to organize themselves to take back power.”

As to the prospect of Chow working with Ford, a Progressive Conservative, if she runs and wins, Hope noted Ford’s close working relationship with Liberal Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.

“I think some of that tension could lead to interesting solutions,” for the city, said Hope, who writes freelance columns for the Star.

JP Hornick, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said Toronto needs a new mayor with municipal experience who can restore deteriorating services with “a vision for what Toronto can be.”

Hornick, who moved to the Eglinton Avenue and Jane Street area after long living downtown, said Chow’s work with activists across the city could help her, as mayor, “bring a vision of how to build Toronto through the suburbs from the downtown.

“While some may see (Chow) as a downtown lefty, since leaving politics she has ... been able to expand who she is and really walk her values,” through work with the institute, Hornick said.

“I think she has a lot to offer those of us not living in the downtown core ... I don’t think that she’s siloed herself.”

Myer Siemiatycki, a political scientist and longtime city hall watcher, said Chow would face some challenges returning to politics after more than seven years.

If she runs some of her policies might overlap with those of Matlow and Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter, who is also expected to join the race, he said, adding Chow will need to remind Torontonians of her work over more than 20 years in office.

“That includes her ability to collaborate across political lines to forge consensus,” Siemiatycki said, noting that conservative mayor Mel Lastman appointed then-councillor Chow the city’s child advocate, and tasked her and her late husband Jack Layton with working to alleviate homelessness.

People can register as a candidate in the June 26 byelection between April 3 and May 12.

Those who have committed to running include Matlow, former city councillor Ana Bail√£o, former police chief Mark Saunders, outspoken former councillor Giorgio Mammoliti and former Toronto Sun columnist Anthony Furey.

Those who have said they are considering candidacy include Hunter and city councillors Brad Bradford and Stephen Holyday.