Hong Kong-born Olivia Chow to run against Rob Ford for Toronto mayor

Olivia Chow, the Hong Kong-born widow of Canadian opposition leader Jack Layton, launches campaign against scandal-plagued Rob Ford

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 March, 2014, 9:55pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 March, 2014, 9:55pm


Left-leaning, Hong Kong-born Olivia Chow has launched her campaign to replace Toronto's conservative mayor Rob Ford, whose drug scandal turned him into an international punchline.

Chow made no mention of Ford's drug use, drunken public appearances or erratic behaviour as she made her first campaign speech on Thursday, a day after she resigned her seat in the federal Parliament in order to contest the mayoralty of Canada's largest city. But she said the mayor had disappointed her.

"The current mayor is failing at his job, and he is no role model for my granddaughters," Chow said at a packed church hall. "We deserve better. It's time for a change."

The mayor is failing at his job, and he is no role model for my granddaughters. We deserve better. It's time for a change

Chow, who immigrated to Canada with her family when she was 13, is the widow of Jack Layton, the leader of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) who died of cancer in 2011. She is the only prominent left-leaning candidate in a crowded field of right-wing contenders in the October 27 mayoral election.

Ford has rebuffed pressure to resign since admitting to smoking crack cocaine last year. The Toronto City Council stripped him of most of his powers in an effort to isolate him, but it lacked the authority to force him out.

Ford said he was not concerned about the challenge from Chow, whose candidacy was widely expected. He insists he remains highly popular in Toronto's working-class conservative suburbs, which carried him to victory in 2010, galvanised by his promise to shake things up at a City Hall he said was dominated by a free-spending liberal elite.

Chow, 56, and her late husband formed a political power couple for decades. The NDP, a union-backed party with socialist roots, won official opposition status for the first time in the May 2011 federal election. Many credited Layton's charisma and popularity. He died soon afterwards.

Chow, a former Toronto city councilor who has spent 26 years in politics, emphasised her immigrant roots during her speech, dismissing attacks from the Ford camp that she would spend recklessly if elected mayor.

Promising to keep Toronto's budget balanced, as required by law, Chow said her humble upbringing taught her about the value of money. She said her mother worked as a maid and her father struggled to find work. But she said she was served well by Toronto's public schools, hospitals, libraries and public transport.

Ford said Chow was even more left-leaning than his predecessor, David Miller, who critics said overspent on programmes favoured by liberals, like arts and culture projects

"All she is is a tax-and-spend socialist. Everyone knows it. Call it for what it is," Ford said.

Ford's promises to slash spending, cut taxes and end what he called "the war on the car" gained him a loyal following in the right-leaning suburbs that came to be known as "Ford Nation".

The competing interests of the suburbs and the core of Toronto have their roots in a 1998 amalgamation forced on the metropolitan area by the Conservative provincial government.

Toronto, with a population of about 700,000, was merged with five of its neighbouring municipalities, creating a single city that now has 2.7 million residents.

An electoral map of the 2010 mayoral election shows that Ford's voter base resides mainly in those former suburbs. It is a more conservative constituency than downtown.

Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Ford could not be dismissed as a contender. But he said the drug scandal - a major issue even in Ford's home suburb of Etobicoke - would wear on his campaign. The mayor also faces a strong challenge from John Tory, a one-time Ontario provincial politician.

Wiseman said Chow's biggest challenge was winning support in the suburbs.

"Three quarters of the votes are not in the old city of Toronto," Wiseman said. "It's impossible to win, no matter how strong you are in the old city of Toronto, unless you score significantly in some of the suburbs."