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Olivia Chow

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Olivia Chow

Olivia Chow
Member of Parliament
for Trinity—Spadina
In office
January 23, 2006 – March 12, 2014
Preceded by Tony Ianno
Succeeded by Adam Vaughan
Toronto City Councillor for Ward 20
In office
Preceded by new ward
Succeeded by Martin Silva
Toronto City Councillor for Ward 24
In office
Preceded by new ward
Succeeded by ward redistribution
Metro Toronto Councillor for Ward 24
In office
Preceded by Dale Martin
Succeeded by Municipal amalgamation of Toronto
Personal details
Born (1957-03-24) March 24, 1957
Hong Kong
Political party Independent (2014 – Present) Note: Municipal politicians in Toronto run on a Nonpartisan basis
Other political
New Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Jack Layton (m. 1988; died 2011)
Residence Toronto, Ontario
Alma mater University of Toronto
University of Guelph
Ontario College of Art
Profession Politician
Religion United Church of Canada
Olivia Chow
Traditional Chinese 鄒至蕙
Simplified Chinese 邹至蕙

Olivia Chow (born March 24, 1957) is a Canadian politician, a former New Democratic Party Member of Parliament (2006-2014), and former city councillor (1991–2005) in Toronto. She won the Trinity—Spadina riding for the New Democratic Party on January 23, 2006, becoming a member of the Canadian House of Commons. In 2011, she was re-elected in her riding for her third straight win.[1] Chow is the widow of former NDP and Opposition Leader Jack Layton; they were married from 1988 until his death from cancer in 2011. She speaks Cantonese, Mandarin and English.[2] In May 2012, Chow was named one of the top 25 Canadian immigrants in Canada by Canadian Immigrant magazine.[3] Chow's personal memoir, titled My Journey, was published January 21, 2014.[4] Chow resigned her seat in parliament on March 12, 2014 in order to run in the 2014 Toronto mayoral election,[5] where she placed third.


  • Background 1
  • Municipal career 2
  • Federal politics 3
  • 2014 Toronto mayoral election 4
  • Electoral record 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Jack Layton and Olivia Chow going to vote, May 2, 2011

Chow was born in Hong Kong, to Ho Sze, a schoolteacher, and Wilson Wai Sun Chow, a school superintendent.[6] She was raised in a middle-class family in Happy Valley, a residential area in Hong Kong.[7] She immigrated to Canada with her family in 1970 at the age of 13 and lived in a high-rise unit in St. James Town, a neighbourhood in Toronto.[5] Her father worked odd jobs, such as delivering Chinese food and driving taxis in order to support the family. Her mother became a seamstress and a maid, and worked in a hotel laundry.[8] Her father was physically abusive towards her half-brother, Andre, and her mother, but nurturing and loving towards Olivia.[9]

Chow was raised in a Chinese Baptist household.[10] As a young girl she was a slow learner and had to repeat grade 3. However, she soon started to excel and she later skipped grade 8.[11] She attended Jarvis Collegiate Institute. She studied fine arts at the Ontario College of Art and philosophy and religion at the University of Toronto. In 1979, she graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Arts in fine art from the University of Guelph.[9]

After graduation, she worked as an artist. She owned a sculpture studio and created art pieces for clients. She stills paints occasionally.[11][12] She later taught at thyroid cancer in 2004. She decided to speak out to raise awareness of the disease.[13] In 2013, she was diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt syndrome type II.[14]

She married Jack Layton in 1988 and they stayed together until his death in July 2011. On August 20, 2012 she unveiled a statue dedicated to her husband Jack Layton; tributes to him were written in English, Chinese and French. The statue is located in Harbour Square Park at the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal. Chow is portrayed by Sook-Yin Lee in the 2013 CBC Television film Jack. Lee won a Canadian Screen Award for her performance.[15]

Municipal career

Chow first became active in politics working with local NDP MP Dan Heap. With his support, she ran for school board trustee, and won in 1985. Popular on the school board, she was elected to Metropolitan Toronto Council in 1991 for the Downtown Ward in the riding of Trinity—Spadina. The area has long been home to a diverse group of communities in the core of Canada's largest urban centre. Chow was re-elected several times to city council by wide margins.

As councillor, Chow was an advocate for the homeless, public transit, and many other urban issues that promote sustainable development. She was also a vociferous opponent of the proposed Toronto Island Airport expansion, a controversial plan by the Toronto Port Authority .

Following the amalgamation of Metropolitan Toronto, she and her husband Jack Layton were prominent members of the city council. While sometimes critical of pro-development mayor Mel Lastman and other suburban councillors, they worked with councillors across political lines to achieve practical progressive measures. Layton left his seat on council to become federal leader of the NDP. Both were supporters of David Miller's successful 2003 campaign to become Mayor of Toronto.

Chow was forced to resign her position on the Toronto Police Services Board because, at a riot in front of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, she informally attempted to persuade police to change their tactics. Some argued, however, that she was ousted for her outspoken attitude towards alleged police misconduct.

Chow was renowned for her trademark bicycle, decorated with flowers and bright colours, which she rode every day to Toronto City Hall.

Chow was voted "Best City Councillor" on numerous occasions by Toronto's alternative weeklies Now Magazine[16][17] and Eye Weekly. In May 2012, Chow was named one of the top 25 Canadian immmigrants in Canada by the Canadian immigrant magazine.[3]

Federal politics

In 1997, Chow ran as the New Democratic Party candidate for the Canadian House of Commons in Trinity—Spadina. Chow was defeated by Liberal Party incumbent Tony Ianno.

In 2004, Chow again won the Trinity—Spadina NDP nomination for the summer federal election, giving her another chance to unseat Tony Ianno of the Liberal Party. With support from Jack Layton, a new urban focus of the NDP, and higher party popularity nationwide, she was widely expected to win despite some criticism from voters who elected her to a municipal seat just six months prior. She managed another strong second place showing, but failed to unseat Ianno by only 2% of the total vote.

Tactical voting was blamed partially for Chow's defeat, as the Liberal attack ads on Stephen Harper attempted to make the election a choice between the Liberals and Conservatives, with the effect of attracting NDP leaning voters to support the Liberals and stave off a potential Harper government. Chow also did not resign her council seat to run federally, with some suggesting that her constituents were able to vote Liberal and while still having Chow around to represent them.

When the Liberal federal government was defeated on a motion of non-confidence, Chow resigned her city council seat of fourteen years on November 28, 2005 to make a third run at seat in the House of Commons. She was succeeded on city council on an interim basis by Martin Silva. As Silva was not allowed to run for re-election, Chow's constituency assistant Helen Kennedy ran but lost to Adam Vaughan.

During the 2006 campaign, Mike Klander, an executive of the federal Liberal party's Ontario wing, made comments in his blog insinuating that Chow was a Chow Chow dog and said of her husband, "...I just want to say that I think Jack Layton is an asshole..."[18][19] Layton denounced the comments about Chow as racist, and Klander apologized and resigned.

On January 23, 2006, she won the Trinity—Spadina seat for the NDP in the federal election. She defeated Ianno by 3,667 votes, almost 6%. Along with Jack Layton she was part of only the second husband-and-wife team in Canadian parliamentary history. (Gurmant Grewal and Nina Grewal were the first, winning their seats in the 2004 election.)

In 2007, Chow sponsored a motion calling for Japan to apologise for forcing some 200,000 women to serve as wartime sex slaves. The motion was passed unanimously by Canada's parliament in November 2007. Chow stated, "for me, this isn't crimes against 200,000 women. It's crimes against humanity and all of the world's citizens have a responsibility to speak out against it."[20]

On June 3, 2008, Chow, "who [originally] brought in the motion," voted to implement a program which would "allow conscientious a war not sanctioned by the United in Canada..." The motion gained international attention from the New York Times,[21] Britain's BBC[22] and the New Zealand press.[23] The Toronto Star reported: "[It] passed 137 to 110.....But the motion is non-binding and the victory was bittersweet as the government (Conservative Party of Canada) is likely to ignore it."[24][25][26] This same motion, again re-introduced by Olivia Chow in the 40th Canadian Parliament, was again passed on March 30, 2009, with a vote of 129 - 125.[27][28] Chow has been instrumental in debates and actions surrounding Canada and Iraq War resisters.

In the 2011 Canadian federal election, which saw the NDP's historic rise to Official Opposition, Chow was reelected handily in her riding of Trinity—Spadina with a margin of more than 20,000 votes over her nearest rival. She was named Critic for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the Official Opposition Shadow Cabinet. She also became the first spouse of a Leader of the Opposition to also be an MP.

However, her time in Stornoway was to be short, as Jack Layton died of cancer just three months after assuming office. Chow was in the spotlight as Layton's widow during the mourning period and state funeral, winning respect for her care for her husband in his last days and for her dignity and poise in grief,[29] and her and Layton's partnership in both life and politics was eulogized.[30] Subsequently, she ruled out a bid for the leadership of the NDP[31] and pledged neutrality in the leadership race.

On March 12, 2014, Chow resigned her seat and registered to run in the 2014 mayoral race in Toronto.[5][32]

2014 Toronto mayoral election

Chow's mayoral campaign

Chow entered the mayoral campaign in an unsuccessful attempt to unseat incumbent mayor Rob Ford after most polls taken over the previous year suggested she was best placed to win either a head-to-head vote against Ford or a multi-candidate contest. Ford's mayoralty has been at the centre of several controversies during his tenure, most significantly over accusations, and ultimately an admission, that he had used crack cocaine and allegations that he has associated with criminals. She was the only prominent centre-left candidate running against Ford. Her other major rivals in the election, former provincial Opposition leader John Tory, councillor Karen Stintz and former budget chief David Soknacki as well as Ford himself, were all centre-right candidates. [32]

Over the course of the election, Chow went from the polling favourite at the beginning of the campaign to the third place candidate in the election. Polls suggested she failed to capitalise on her early popularity and fell victim to strategic voting from those seeking to ensure the end of the Ford era.[32]

Chow's campaign manager is 2010 mayoral election and filmmaker Deepa Mehta.[32]

Chow’s three priority areas are transit, children and jobs.[36] Her first policy announcement was about increasing bus service.[37] She has also released policies about expanding after-school recreation programs for children aged 6–11,[38] as well as creating 5,000 jobs and training opportunities for young people through community benefits agreements.[39]

Electoral record

Canadian federal election, 2011: Trinity—Spadina
Party Candidate Votes % ∆% Expenditures
New Democratic Olivia Chow 35,493 54.1 +13.2 ?
Liberal Christine Innes 15,218 23.2 -11.9 ?
Conservative Gin Siow 10,938 16.7 ?
Green Rachel Barney 3,279 5.0 ?
Libertarian Chester Brown 454 0.7 -0.12 ?
Marxist–Leninist Nick Lin 178 0.3 ?
Total valid votes/Expense limit 65,560 100.00 ?
Total rejected ballots
Turnout 65,560 68.8
Canadian federal election, 2008: Trinity—Spadina
Party Candidate Votes % ∆% Expenditures
New Democratic Olivia Chow 24,442 40.88 -5.15 $87,231
Liberal Christine Innes 20,967 35.06 -5.08 $68,343
Conservative Christine McGirr 8,220 13.75 +4.74 $53,815
Green Stephen LaFrenie 5,383 9.00 +5.16 $12,333
Libertarian Chester Brown 490 0.82 $0
Independent Carlos Santos Almeida 164 0.27 $541
Independent Val Illie 130 0.22 $580
Total valid votes/Expense limit 59,796 100.00 $94,303
Total rejected ballots
Canadian federal election, 2006: Trinity—Spadina
Party Candidate Votes % ∆% Expenditures
New Democratic Olivia Chow 28,748 46.03 +3.99 $78,702
Liberal Tony Ianno 25,067 40.14 -3.41 $66,373
Conservative Sam Goldstein 5,625 9.01 +0.36 $22,879
Green Thom Chapman 2,398 3.84 -0.40 $165
Progressive Canadian Asif Hossain 392 0.63 -0.37 $257
Marxist–Leninist Nick Lin 138 0.22 +0.03
Canadian Action John Riddell 82 0.13 -0.04 $25
Total valid votes 62,450 100.00
Total rejected ballots 278 0.44 -0.17
Turnout 62,728 70.9 +7.2
Canadian federal election, 2004: Trinity—Spadina
Party Candidate Votes % ∆% Expenditures
Liberal Tony Ianno 23,202 43.55 -3.86 $68,821
New Democratic Olivia Chow 22,397 42.04 +3.87 $77,070
Conservative David Watters 4,605 8.64 -2.15 $34,598
Green Mark Viitala 2,259 4.24 +2.91 $1,330
Progressive Canadian Asif Hossain 531 1.00 $24
Marxist–Leninist Nick Lin 102 0.19 -0.06 $164
Canadian Action Tristan Alexander Downe-Dewdney 91 0.17 N/A
Independent Daniel Knezetic 89 0.17 $3,103
Total valid votes 53,276 100.00
Total rejected ballots 329 0.61
Turnout 53,605 63.7
Note: Conservative vote is compared to the total of the Canadian Alliance vote and Progressive Conservative vote in 2000 election.
Canadian federal election, 1997: Trinity—Spadina
Party Candidate Votes % ∆%
Liberal Tony Ianno 18,215 45.30 -5.84
New Democratic Olivia Chow 16,413 40.81 +13.83
Progressive Conservative Danielle Wai Mascall 2,793 6.95 -1.15
Reform Nolan Young 1,649 4.10 -3.73
Green Sat Singh Khalsa 392 0.97 -0.64
Natural Law Ashley Deans 194 0.48 -0.53
Independent John Roderick Wilson 159 0.40
Marxist–Leninist J.-P. Bedard 140 0.35 +0.16
Canadian Action Thomas P. Beckerle 130 0.32
Independent Roberto Verdecchia 129 0.32
Total valid votes 40,214 100.00


  1. ^ "Trinity-Spadina - Canada Votes 2011". CBC News. Retrieved 2011-05-03. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Sanjay Agnihotri (May 29, 2012). "Canadian Immigrant Magazine and RBC Honour Canada’s Top 25". Canadian Immigrant. Retrieved September 22, 2012. 
  4. ^ "About The Book". My Journey by Olivia Chow. HarperCollins Canada. Retrieved 29 January 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c Morrow, Adrian; Hui, Ann (March 11, 2014). "Olivia Chow resigns seat, set to launch Toronto mayoral bid". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved March 12, 2014. 
  6. ^ Cohen, Tobi (January 17, 2014). "Olivia Chow recounts abusive upbringing in new memoir". Retrieved March 12, 2014. 
  7. ^ Diebel, Linda (October 24, 2014). "Olivia Chow shows grit in life and a tough election". Toronto Star. Retrieved October 28, 2014. 
  8. ^ Diebel, Linda (January 17, 2014). "My Journey by Olivia Chow: review". Toronto Star. Retrieved March 12, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Chu, Showwei (March 12, 2014). "Must know things about Olivia Chow". City TV News. 
  10. ^ Geddes, John (June 16, 2011). "The life and times of Jack Layton". Maclean's. Retrieved March 12, 2014. 
  11. ^ a b Koorsh, Karolyn (March 12, 2014). "5 things you may not know about Olivia Chow". CTV News. 
  12. ^ John, Allemang (May 27, 2011). "Layton stakes his biggest bet as Jack of Hearts". Toronto: The Globe and Mail. Retrieved March 12, 2014. 
  13. ^ "NDP leader's wife speaks of battle with thyroid cancer". CBC News. April 13, 2005. Retrieved March 12, 2014. 
  14. ^ Connor, Kevin (January 4, 2013). "Olivia Chow diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt syndrome". Toronto Sun. Retrieved March 12, 2014. 
  15. ^ "2014 Canadian Screen Awards Full Winners List". Canadian Screen Awards. Retrieved March 29, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Best of Toronto 2001: Reader's Poll Award". NOW Magazine. October 25, 2001. 
  17. ^ "Best of Toronto". NOW Magazine. October 28, 2004. 
  18. ^ NDP's Olivia Chow wins bid for seat on third try. CTV News. January 24, 2006. [1]
  19. ^ Liberal exec quits over his blog remarks about NDPers. CBC News. December 27, 2005. [2]
  20. ^ "Canada chides Japan on sex slaves". BBC News. 2007-11-29. Archived from the original on 2007-12-01. Retrieved 2007-11-29. 
  21. ^ Austen, Ian (July 16, 2008). "Canada Expels an American Deserter From the Iraq War". The New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2010. 
  22. ^ "Head-to-head: Refuge for deserters?". BBC News. June 11, 2008. Retrieved May 20, 2010. 
  23. ^ "US deserter appeals deportation".  
  24. ^ Smith, Joanna (2008-06-03). "MPs vote to give asylum to U.S. military deserters". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  25. ^ "Report - Iraq War Resisters / Rapport –Opposants a la guerre en Irak". House of Commons / Chambre des Communes, Ottawa, Canada. Retrieved 2008-06-09. 
  26. ^ "Official Report * Table of Contents * Number 104 (Official Version)". House of Commons / Chambre des Communes, Ottawa, Canada. Retrieved 2008-06-09. 
  27. ^ 40th PARLIAMENT, 2nd SESSION, EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 036, CONTENTS, Monday, March 30, 2009
  28. ^ Cooper, Alex (April 21, 2009). "Federal court to hear American war resister's appeal".  
  29. ^ Diebel, Linda. "Olivia Chow: An oil painting in stoic grief." The Toronto Star, 27 August 2011. Accessed 5 September 2011.
  30. ^ Kingston, Anne. "Jack Layton and Olivia Chow: A force field of two." Maclean's, 5 September 2011. Accessed 5 September 2011.
  31. ^ "Olivia Chow rules out NDP leadership bid." CBC News. 4 September 2011.
  32. ^ a b c d "Toronto election: Olivia Chow registers to run for mayor". Toronto Star. March 12, 2014. Retrieved March 12, 2014. 
  33. ^ Olivia Chow deletes the most Facebook comments Toronto Star. Mar 28 2014
  34. ^ Nathan Rotman leaves NDP role to work on Olivia Chow mayoral bid
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^ Olivia Chow wants to boost TTC bus service by 10% Mar 20, 2014
  38. ^ Olivia Chow promises greater access to after-school programs for kids Toronto Star. Apr 06 2014
  39. ^ Olivia Chow vows to create 5,000 jobs for youths with new program National Post. May 13, 2014

Further reading

  • Chow, Olivia (2014). My Journey. Toronto:  

External links

  • Official website
  • Olivia Chow – Parliament of Canada biography
  • Olivia Chow on Twitter
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