Olivia Chow has been elected mayor of Toronto, becoming the first woman and the first visible minority person to lead post-amalgamation Toronto.
Chow, 66, was the favourite to win the race from the moment she entered and managed to command a decisive lead in the polls, though the race on election night ended up being a photo finish between her and Ana Bailão. She received about 37% of the vote in Monday’s race.
The mayoral byelection was launched after former mayor Tory, 68 stepped down in February, hours after the Toronto Star newspaper reported he had an affair with a 31-year-old staffer during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Just months earlier, Tory had cruised into a third term, securing over 60% of the vote. This was Toronto’s first mayoral race without an incumbent since 2014 and no clear centre-right successor to Tory emerged.
“Wow. Thank you, Toronto! Thank you everyone. What a night!” she said, flanked by family. “If you ever doubted what’s possible together, if you ever questioned your faith in a better future, in what we can do with each other, for each other, tonight is your answer.”
She thanked the people of the city for their “mandate for change” as the city’s new mayor and pledged to dedicate herself to “work tirelessly to build a city that is more caring, more affordable and safe, where everyone belongs” and also thanked her supporters and volunteers for their tireless efforts.
“I know things are tough these days. It’s harder to get by and harder to get around, but don’t give up. Toronto is a place of hope, a city of second chances,” Chow said.
An immigrant who came to Toronto from Hong Kong with her parents at the age of 13, Chow talked about their struggles to adapt to a new country under difficult circumstances. She started sewing buttons onto jeans as a teen to help her family, with her mother cleaning homes and her father unable to hold a steady job due to mental illness.
Chow is also the widow of the late NDP leader Jack Layton, who himself came to federal politics from Toronto City Council and led their party to unprecedented opposition status in 2011 in the so-called “orange crush” before his sudden death from cancer the same year.
Chow’s stepson Mike Layton served as a city councillor before stepping away from the role last year and was involved in her get-out-the vote efforts on Monday.
While Chow was a councillor for many years, she will be returning to a council that is much changed. Ford used his majority at Queen’s Park in 2018 to slash council in half and last year he bestowed strong mayor powers on Toronto.
Those new powers include a provision allowing the mayor to override a majority vote on council, though Chow has said she would not use that power, and will instead seek to make consensus with council. She’ll be helped in that regard by the six left-leaning councillors who supported her run.
While she will have more control over the city’s agenda as mayor, Chow will also inherit a city plagued by serious financial problems, namely a $1.5 billion deficit for fiscal 2022 and 2023 and the provincially-mandated loss of some development charges.
Chow has said she thinks she can negotiate a better deal with the higher levels of government by engaging the people of the city in a transparent negotiation and budgeting process. But if she can’t, she will almost certainly have to raise taxes or slash services.
Chow’s win continues a tide of change that brought a number of progressive councillors – including Bravo – to city hall in October, despite the fact that Tory backed a number of their opponents.