Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow has urged tens of thousands of Torontonians living in Hong Kong to help end the "embarrassment" of having Rob Ford as leader of Canada's biggest city.
Chow, whose family migrated from Hong Kong to Canada when she was 13, told the South China Morning Post on Tuesday that Toronto residents living in Hong Kong shared the "sense of shame" that came from having a crack-smoking mayor.
The former MP for the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) said Canadian citizens in Hong Kong who were eligible to vote in October's municipal elections had the chance to restore pride to Toronto.
She was visiting Hong Kong with fellow MPs in November when Toronto police confirmed the existence of a video that showed Ford smoking from a crack pipe. Ford's drunken escapades and his association with known gang members have also provided rich fodder for late-night comedians.
"That was the exact time when Rob Ford made international news. So I saw Rob Ford on the front page of the South China Morning Post. I thought 'oh my God. We can't escape the embarrassment'," said Chow, 57, who is one of Canada's most prominent ethnic Chinese politicians.
It is unclear how many Canadians in Hong Kong are eligible to vote in Toronto's elections. However, a 2010 survey conducted by the Asia Pacific Foundation suggested there were about 295,000 Canadian citizens in the SAR, most of them returnee immigrants. Since a large majority of Hong Kong emigrants settle in either Toronto or Vancouver, a conservative estimate of the number of Torontonians in Hong Kong would reach more than 100,000.
Chow, the widow of former NDP and opposition leader Jack Layton, stepped down as a federal MP last month in order to challenge Ford. She said she believed Hong Kong's Torontonians felt "a fascination and a deep-seated embarrassment and sense of shame" about Ford's behaviour.
"There we are on CNN, being recognised not as this most diverse and successful city, but as a laughing stock on Hollywood late-night shows," she said.
Chow is considered the leading contender to oust Ford, who remains popular in working-class Toronto suburbs known as "Ford Nation". More than 40 candidates have registered for the October 27 race, with former provincial Progressive Conservative party leader John Tory the other main challenger.
Chow has campaigned on the promise of creating a world-class public transport system in Toronto. She has also pledged to create jobs by cutting taxes on small businesses.
The mayor's brother, Councillor Doug Ford, told the Toronto Sun last month that voters "may despise Rob Ford but I know deep in your heart if you had Olivia Chow taking care of your bank account or Rob Ford, you wouldn't care if Rob had 10 beers because he'd watch every single penny".
A poll conducted by Forum Research on March 13, the day Chow launched her campaign, saw her leading the field of candidates, with 36 per cent of respondents supporting her. Ford had 28 per cent support and Tory 22 per cent.
In the first televised mayoral debate, held on March 26, Ford's rivals mainly steered clear of the controversy surrounding his behaviour, and most observers thought Ford held his own. But Chow delivered the best line of the night, after the cost-cutting mayor boasted that he had been elected to "stop the gravy train".
"Your gravy train has turned into a train wreck," Chow said.
Chow said her primary message to potential voters in Hong Kong was that they should participate. "Toronto is your city too. You may want to come back to retire or invest … You want to be proud of your city," she said.
Would-be overseas voters must register, with applications available via the Elections Canada website or at the Canadian Consulate General. Once on the electoral rolls in Toronto, they must then contact the city clerk's office after September 12 to obtain a proxy voting form.
Watch: Olivia Chow's mayoral race campaign ad