Olivia Chow emerged victorious in a closely contested race on Monday to become the next mayor of Toronto, promising a progressive approach following more than ten years of conservative leadership at city hall.
In a race that included a record number of 102 candidates, Chow, a former downtown Toronto NDP MPP and city councillor, outperformed several well-established contenders. One of her main rivals was Ana Bailão, who finished in second place. Bailão had previously served as deputy to former mayor John Tory, whose unexpected resignation in February prompted the by-election.
Chow, born in Hong Kong and arrived in Toronto at age 13, will make history as the city’s third woman and the first mayor from a racialized background. She assumes the top position when the city faces significant challenges, including a substantial budget deficit, an affordability crisis, and concerns over public safety.
Addressing her enthusiastic supporters, Chow declared, “If you ever doubted what we can achieve together if you ever questioned our ability to create a better future in collaboration, tonight provides the answer. Thank you, people, of Toronto, for trusting me and your mandate for change as your new mayor.”
One of Chow’s prominent commitments is to revitalize social housing development in the city, along with an annual investment of $100 million in a program aimed at purchasing affordable homes and transferring them to non-profit organizations and land trusts.
Chow had previously run for mayor in 2014 but had dropped to a distant third place early in the campaign. Her victory this time was facilitated by a divided field, with other prominent candidates, such as former police chief Mark Saunders and conservative newspaper columnist Anthony Furey, competing for support from conservative-leaning voters. Bailão, a reliable ally to Tory during his tenure as mayor, was seen as the natural successor to his leadership style.
Running her campaign from the left, Chow pledged to enhance rent supplements by introducing a “luxury home tax” and expanding the land transfer tax on properties sold for $3 million and above. She also proposed tripling the city’s existing vacant homes tax to three percent.
While Chow will inherit significant mayoral powers, she has repeatedly affirmed that she will not use them to override the “majority rule” in the council. These powers theoretically allow her to pass budgets with only one-third support from the council, veto bylaws, and unilaterally shape the city’s top-level administration.
Chow did not release a fully-costed platform during the campaign and consistently declined to specify the extent of property tax increases needed to fund her commitments, which drew criticism from her main rivals throughout the race.
During last week’s campaign, Ontario Premier Doug Ford effectively endorsed Saunders, cautioning in a press conference that a mayoralty under Chow would be an “unmitigated disaster” and lead to an “unprecedented rate” of tax increases.
Ford’s direct attack raises concerns about Chow’s relationship with the provincial government, especially as the city faces a $1.5-billion budget deficit that will likely require assistance from the province.
On Monday night, Ford was conciliatory, expressing his willingness to work with anyone ready to collaborate with the government to improve the city and the province.
Olivia Chow has long been a prominent figure in Toronto politics. She began her political career as a school board trustee in 1985, served 12 years on the city council representing Trinity-Spadina, and later became a member of the New Democratic Party (NDP) in the federal parliament alongside her late husband, Jack Layton, who was the former leader of the federal NDP.
Throughout her career, Chow has championed various policy positions, such as supporting an anti-homophobia curriculum in the 198