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Olivia Chow is elected Toronto's mayor — marking a shift in the city's politics

Olivia Chow celebrates with supporters after being declared the winner in the race for mayor of Toronto at an election night rally on Monday.
Ian Willms
Getty Images
Olivia Chow celebrates with supporters after being declared the winner in the race for mayor of Toronto at an election night rally on Monday.

Who is she? Olivia Chow is the new mayor-elect of Toronto, making her the first Chinese Canadian to win the office.

  • Born in Hong Kong, Chow moved to Toronto when she was 13 years old. Now 66, Chow is a veteran progressive politician. She won her first election in 1985 for a seat on the Toronto Board of Education. Then in 1991, she became the first Asian-born woman elected to the Metro Toronto Council. Chow served as a Member of Parliament from 2006 to 2014. 
  • Chow ran on a platform promoting affordable housing, renters' rights and improvements to public transportation. She vowed to make Toronto "more caring, affordable, and safer for everyone."
  • On Monday night, Chow emerged victorious out of a field of 102 candidates – a record number for Toronto. She takes over from former mayor John Tory, who resigned after the Toronto Star newspaper reported he had a relationship with a staffer.
  • What's the big deal? In addition to being the first Chinese Canadian mayor-elect, as a progressive, Chow ends more than a decade of conservative leadership in Canada's most populous city.

  • Chow will be the first woman of color to lead Toronto, one of the world's most multicultural cities. According to the 2021 census, 46.6% of Toronto residents are immigrants.
  • The first progressive mayor since David Miller served 2003-2010, Chow seeks to tackle a wide range of problems as the city recovers from the pandemic. The Guardian reports that the city has struggled to advance progressive policies since 1998, when downtown Toronto was amalgamated with its five more conservative, neighboring boroughs.
  • Supporters of Chow say her victory means the city is ready for change. 
  • What are people saying? Chow delivered a victory speech to a crowd of supporters on Monday.

    "Toronto is a place of hope. A place of second chances. A city where an immigrant kid from St. James Town can be standing in front of you as your new mayor."

    "If you ever doubted what's possible together, if you ever questioned your faith in a better future and what we can do with each other, for each other, tonight is your answer."

    Observers, like Toronto Star city hall bureau chief David Rider, noted the election could signal a dramatic shift in Toronto.

    So, what now?

  • Chow has requested to take office on July 12, and is starting to meet with Toronto councilors to prepare to hit the ground running. 
  • She is expected to raise property taxes to fund affordable housing, public transportation and other city services, which have faced cuts under previous conservative mayors. 
  • Chow's priority right now? "Housing, housing, housing," she told the Toronto Star. Toronto's housing crisis will be one of the biggest challenges facing the new mayor.
  • Over the last 50 years, disinvestment in affordable housing has created a crisis for renters, according to the Canadian Centre for Housing Right – a crisis that's been exacerbated by the pandemic
  • The Guardian reports that Chow also inherits a struggling public transportation system, criticized for deteriorating service, and growing concerns around public safety.
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Kai McNamee
    [Copyright 2024 NPR]