By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Being the first racialized person –and third woman – in the City of Toronto’s history to be elected as mayor, Olivia Chow will be officially sworn in as Mayor of Toronto on Wednesday, July 12.
Although popular among the city’s voters, East Toronto politicians are aware that Chow has a tough road ahead as leader of a struggling city facing a variety of challenges.
Toronto-Danforth Councillor Paula Fletcher said she believes in Chow’s ability to reconstruct the bridge between Toronto Council and higher levels of government.
“I’m thrilled that Olivia is going to be our mayor,” said Fletcher. “She is an experienced person who has an ability to work with everybody – even Doug Ford (Progressive Conservative Premier of Ontario).”
Fletcher believes Chow’s background as a Member of Parliament (she represented the Trinity-Spadina riding as an NDP MP from 2006 to 2014) and experience with the federal government and the funding process for provinces and municipalities gave her the edge over her mayoral byelection opponents. Chow also served as Toronto municipal councillor from 1991 to 2005.
“It was a landmark election, and it’s a landmark mayor,” said Fletcher in regards to the Toronto electing its first female mayor since megacity amalgamation at the end of 1997.
Barbara Hall (1994 to 1997) and June Rowlands (1991 to 1994) were also former City of Toronto mayors prior to megacity amalgamation. The former City of Scarborough also had a woman mayor, Joyce Trimmer, from 1988 to 1994.
Chow’s campaign influenced many voters who sat out of last year’s municipal election in Toronto to participate this time around, increasing voter turnout from 29 per cent to 40 per cent. Chow was elected in the June 26 mayoral byelection with 269, 372 votes. Second place finisher Ana Bailao with 235, 175 votes.
“It was a very high voter turnout despite the fact that people said it wasn’t going to be so,” said Fletcher.
Fletcher highlighted that East Toronto wards, including Beaches-East York, Scarborough Southwest, and her own ward of Toronto-Danforth, voted overwhelmingly in favour of Chow. Toronto Danforth also led the way with the highest number of early voters at the city’s advance polls.
“I have a very engaged ward and they were very anxious to make sure that she won,” said Fletcher of Chow.
Since her election victory, Chow has hired her campaign director Michal Hay as chief-of-staff. Chow’s team has also announced that the city’s executive committee will meet in August to discuss the city’s budget options.
Although Toronto City Hall usually takes a break in August, it appears Chow is attempting to drive home the point that Toronto has no time to waste when dealing with its most pressing issues.
Scarborough Southwest NDP MPP Doly Begum, who endorsed Chow in the mayoral campaign, praised the new mayor for her victorious campaign which, surprisingly, was won under the banner of increased taxes.
“I am so proud to celebrate Toronto’s overwhelming support for our new mayor, Olivia Chow,” said Begum. “It shows that all across this great city there is an unwavering confidence that she is a leader who will deliver results and make the changes that we vitally need in our communities.”
Begum said she was confident that Chow will fulfill her commitment to addressing the city’s most pressing issues, namely affordability, transit, and community services.
“As mayor, she wants what we all want to see – a vision for a safe, affordable and healthy Toronto,” said Begum.
“I look forward to seeing our new mayor transform Toronto into a more inclusive city that serves the needs of every individual, regardless of their background or circumstances. I am confident that Mayor Chow will ensure that Torontonians are treated fairly at City Hall.”
Begum described Chow as a “dedicated and proven leader who understands the priorities of Torontonians”, putting extra emphasis on Chow’s interest in Scarborough which she said has always been neglected.
On Wednesday, July 5, Chow showed her attentiveness to developments in Scarborough during her first transition meeting. At the meeting which was held at the Victoria Park Hub, she spoke about community-focused housing options with private and public stakeholders using Scarborough’s Golden Mile as a framework for future developments in her term in office.
Chow has also recently been very vocal about Toronto’s refugee crisis, calling on the federal government to increase funding to help support the incoming wave of immigrants in need of help from Canada.
Toronto’s budget deficit, as a result of the city’s COVID-19 response, is also high on the docket for Toronto Council once Chow is sworn in as mayor.
“All levels of government really need to assist around all the things we did for COVID,” said Fletcher. “We didn’t just keep these folks safe for the city. We kept them safe for the province and for the federal government.”
Fletcher said it’s now time to gather and discuss how the federal and provincial governments will make up for the shortfall that Toronto undertook in order to keep people safe.
The Declaration of Office ceremony for Chow will take place at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, July 12, in the Council Chambers at Toronto City Hall. Following the Declaration ceremony, Chow will make her first official remarks as Mayor of Toronto.
— Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.