Olivia Chow

Olivia Chow
Olivia Chow

Member of Parliament
for Trinity—Spadina
Assumed office
January 23, 2006
Preceded by Tony Ianno
Toronto, Ontario City Councillor
In office
Succeeded by Martin Silva
Personal details
Born March 24, 1957 (1957-03-24) (age 54)
Hong Kong Hong Kong
Political party New Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Jack Layton (1988–2011 ; his death)
Residence Toronto, Ontario
Profession Politician

Olivia Chow (Chinese: 鄒至蕙; Mandarin Pinyin: Zōu zhìhuì; Jyutping: zau1 zi3wai6; born March 24, 1957) is a Canadian New Democratic Party Member of Parliament and former city councillor (1991–2005) in Toronto. She won the Trinity—Spadina riding for the New Democratic Party on January 23, 2006, becoming a member of the Canadian House of Commons. Most recently, she was re-elected in her riding for her third straight win.[1] Chow is the widow of former NDP and Opposition Leader Jack Layton; they were married from 1988 until his death at their home in 2011. She speaks Cantonese, Mandarin and English.


Early life and municipal career

Jack Layton and Olivia Chow going to vote, May 2, 2011

Chow was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to Canada with her family (mother Ho Sze) in 1970 at the age of 13. She attended Jarvis Collegiate Institute. Chow first became active in politics working with local NDP MP Dan Heap. With his support, she ran for school board trustee, and won in 1985. Popular on the school board, she was elected to Toronto city council in 1991 in Ward 20 (Ward 24 from 1997–2006) in the riding of Trinity—Spadina. The area has long been home to a diverse group of communities in the core of Canada's largest urban centre. Chow was re-elected several times to city council by wide margins.

As city councillor, Chow was an advocate for the homeless, public transit, and many other urban issues that promote sustainable development. She was also a vociferous opponent of the proposed Toronto Island Airport expansion, a controversial plan by the Toronto Port Authority that would increase air traffic over Ward 20.

Following the amalgamation of Metropolitan Toronto, she and her husband Jack Layton were prominent members of the city council. While sometimes critical of pro-development mayor Mel Lastman and other suburban councillors, they worked with councillors across political lines to achieve practical progressive measures. Layton left his seat on council to become federal leader of the NDP. Both were supporters of David Miller's successful 2003 campaign to become Mayor of Toronto.

Chow was forced to resign her position on the Toronto Police Services Board because, at a riot in front of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, she informally attempted to persuade police to change their tactics. Some argued, however, that she was ousted for her outspoken attitude towards alleged police misconduct.

Chow was renowned for her trademark bicycle, decorated with flowers and bright colours. She rode every day to Toronto City Hall, and carless commuting was consistent with her environmentalist values.

Chow was voted "Best City Councillor" on numerous occasions by Toronto's alternative weeklies Now Magazine[2][3] and Eye Weekly.

Federal politics

In 1997, Chow ran as the New Democratic Party candidate for the Canadian House of Commons in Trinity—Spadina. Chow came close to defeating Liberal Party incumbent Tony Ianno.

In 2004, Chow again won the Trinity—Spadina NDP nomination for the summer federal election, giving her another chance to unseat Tony Ianno of the Liberal Party. With support from Jack Layton, a new urban focus of the NDP, and higher party popularity nationwide, she was widely expected to win despite some criticism from voters who elected her to a municipal seat just six months prior. She managed another strong second place showing, but failed to unseat Ianno by only 2% of the total vote.

Tactical voting was blamed partially for Chow's defeat, as the Liberal attack ads on Stephen Harper attempted to make the election a choice between the Liberals and Conservatives, with the effect of attracting NDP leaning voters to support the Liberals and stave off a potential Harper government. Chow also did not resign her council seat to run federally, with some suggesting that her constituents were able to vote Liberal and while still having Chow around to represent them.

When the Liberal federal government was defeated on a motion of non-confidence, Chow resigned her city council seat of fourteen years on November 28, 2005 to making a third run at seat in the House of Commons. She was succeeded on city council on an interim basis Martin Silva. As Silva was not allowed to run for re-election, Chow's constituency assistant Helen Kennedy ran but lost to Adam Vaughan.

During the 2006 campaign, Mike Klander, an executive of the federal Liberal party's Ontario wing, made comments in his blog that described Chow as a Chow Chow dog and called her husband Layton an asshole.[4][5] Layton denounced the comments as racist, and Klander apologized and resigned.

On January 23, 2006, she won the Trinity—Spadina seat for the NDP in the federal election. She defeated Ianno by 3,667 votes, almost 6%. Along with Jack Layton she is part of only the second husband and wife team in Canadian parliamentary history. (Gurmant Grewal and Nina Grewal were the first, winning their seats in the 2004 election.)

In 2007, Chow sponsored a motion calling for Japan to apologise for forcing some 200,000 women to serve as wartime sex slaves. The motion was passed unanimously by Canada's parliament in November 2007. Chow stated, "for me, this isn't crimes against 200,000 women. It's crimes against humanity and all of the world's citizens have a responsibility to speak out against it."[6]

On June 3, 2008, Olivia Chow, "who [originally] brought in the motion," voted to implement a program which would "allow conscientious objectors...to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations...to...remain in Canada..." The motion gained international attention from the New York Times,[7] Britain's BBC[8] and the New Zealand press.[9] The Toronto Star reported: "[It] passed 137 to 110.....But the motion is non-binding and the victory was bittersweet as the government (Conservative Party of Canada) is likely to ignore it." [10][11][12] This same motion, again re-introduced by Olivia Chow in the 40th Parliament of Canada, was again passed on March 30, 2009, with a vote of 129 - 125.[13][14] Chow has been instrumental in debates and actions surrounding Canada and Iraq War Resisters.

In the 2011 Canadian federal election, which saw the NDP's historic rise to Official Opposition, Chow was reelected handily in her riding of Trinity—Spadina, with a margin of more than 20,000 votes over her nearest rival. She was named Critic for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the Official Opposition Shadow Cabinet. She also became the first spouse of a Leader of the Opposition to also be an MP.

However, her time in Stornoway was to be short, as Jack Layton died of cancer just three months after assuming office. Chow was in the spotlight as Layton's widow during the mourning period and state funeral, winning respect for her care for her husband in his last days and for her dignity and poise in grief[15], and her and Layton's partnership in both life and politics was eulogized.[16] Subsequently, she ruled out a bid for the leadership of the NDP[17] and pledged neutrality in the leadership race.

Outside of politics

Chow was an artist before becoming a politician and still paints occasionally.[5] She studied fine arts at the Ontario College of Art and philosophy and religion at the University of Toronto. In 1979, she graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Arts in fine art from the University of Guelph.[18]

Chow championed the novel Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood in the 2005 edition of Canada Reads.

In 2005, she revealed that she had undergone surgery for thyroid cancer in 2004. She decided to speak out in order to raise awareness of the disease.[19]

Electoral record

2011 federal election : Trinity—Spadina edit
Party Candidate Votes % +/- Expenditures
     New Democrat Olivia Chow 35,493 54.1 +13.2 ?
     Liberal Christine Innes 15,218 23.2 -11.9 ?
     Conservative Gin Siow 10,938 16.7 ?
     Green Rachel Barney 3,279 5.0 ?
     Libertarian Chester Brown 454 0.7 -0.12 ?
     Marxist–Leninist Nick Lin 178 0.3 ?
Total valid votes/Expense limit 65,560 100.00
Total rejected ballots
Turnout 65,560 68.8
2008 federal election : Trinity—Spadina edit
Party Candidate Votes % +/- Expenditures
     New Democrat Olivia Chow 24,442 40.88 -5.15 $87,231
     Liberal Christine Innes 20,967 35.06 -5.08 $68,343
     Conservative Christine McGirr 8,220 13.75 +4.74 $53,815
     Green Stephen LaFrenie 5,383 9.00 +5.16 $12,333
     Libertarian Chester Brown 490 0.82 $0
     Independent Carlos Santos Almeida 164 0.27 $541
     Independent Val Illie 130 0.22 $580
Total valid votes/Expense limit 59,796 100.00
Total rejected ballots
2006 federal election : Trinity—Spadina edit
Party Candidate Votes % +/- Expenditures
     New Democrat Olivia Chow 28,748 46.03 +3.99 $78,702
     Liberal Tony Ianno 25,067 40.14 -3.41 $66,373
     Conservative Sam Goldstein 5,625 9.01 +0.36 $22,879
     Green Thom Chapman 2,398 3.84 -0.40 $165
Progressive Canadian Asif Hossain 392 0.63 -0.37 $257
     Marxist–Leninist Nick Lin 138 0.22 +0.03 N/A
     Canadian Action John Riddell 82 0.13 -0.04 $25
Total valid votes 62,450 100.00
Total rejected ballots 278 0.44 -0.17
Turnout 62,728 70.9 +7.2
2004 federal election : Trinity—Spadina edit
Party Candidate Votes % +/- Expenditures
     Liberal Tony Ianno 23,202 43.55 -3.86 $68,821
     New Democrat Olivia Chow 22,397 42.04 +3.87 $77,070
     Conservative David Watters 4,605 8.64 -2.15 $34,598
     Green Mark Viitala 2,259 4.24 +2.91 $1,330
Progressive Canadian Asif Hossain 531 1.00 $24
     Marxist–Leninist Nick Lin 102 0.19 -0.06 $164
     Canadian Action Tristan Alexander Downe-Dewdney 91 0.17 N/A
     Independent Daniel Knezetic 89 0.17 $3,103
Total valid votes 53,276 100.00
Total rejected ballots 329 0.61
Turnout 53,605 63.7

Note: Conservative vote is compared to the total of the Canadian Alliance vote and Progressive Conservative vote in 2000 election.

1997 federal election : Trinity—Spadina edit
Party Candidate Votes % +/-
     Liberal Tony Ianno 18,215 45.30 -5.84
     New Democrat Olivia Chow 16,413 40.81 +13.83
     Progressive Conservative Danielle Wai Mascall 2,793 6.95 -1.15
     Reform Nolan Young 1,649 4.10 -3.73
     Green Sat Singh Khalsa 392 0.97 -0.64
     Natural Law Ashley Deans 194 0.48 -0.53
     Independent John Roderick Wilson 159 0.40
     Marxist–Leninist J.-P. Bedard 140 0.35 +0.16
     Canadian Action Thomas P. Beckerle 130 0.32
     Independent Roberto Verdecchia 129 0.32
Total valid votes 40,214 100.00


  1. ^ "Trinity-Spandina - Canada Votes 2011". CBC News. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canadavotes2011/#/202. Retrieved 2011-05-03. 
  2. ^ Best of Toronto 2001: Reader's Poll Award. NOW Magazine. October 25, 2001. [1]
  3. ^ Best of Toronto. NOW Magazine. October 28, 2004
  4. ^ NDP's Olivia Chow wins bid for seat on third try. CTV News. January 24, 2006. [2]
  5. ^ Liberal exec quits over his blog remarks about NDPers. CBC News. December 27, 2005. [3]
  6. ^ "Canada chides Japan on sex slaves". BBC News. 2007-11-29. Archived from the original on 2007-12-01. http://web.archive.org/web/20071201131151/http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7118249.stm. Retrieved 2007-11-29. 
  7. ^ Austen, Ian (July 16, 2008). "Canada Expels an American Deserter From the Iraq War". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/16/world/americas/16deport.html?_r=2&ref=americas&oref=slogin&oref=slogin. Retrieved May 20, 2010. 
  8. ^ "Head-to-head: Refuge for deserters?". BBC News. June 11, 2008. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7444116.stm. Retrieved May 20, 2010. 
  9. ^ "US deserter appeals deportation". Television New Zealand. Reuters. August 15, 2008. http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/536641/2006457. Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  10. ^ Smith, Joanna (2008-06-03). "MPs vote to give asylum to U.S. military deserters". The Toronto Star. http://www.thestar.com/News/Canada/article/436575. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  11. ^ "Report - Iraq War Resisters / Rapport –Opposants a la guerre en Irak". House of Commons / Chambre des Communes, Ottawa, Canada. http://cmte.parl.gc.ca/cmte/CommitteePublication.aspx?SourceId=222011. Retrieved 2008-06-09. 
  12. ^ "Official Report * Table of Contents * Number 104 (Official Version)". House of Commons / Chambre des Communes, Ottawa, Canada. http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=39&Ses=2&DocId=3543213#Int-2506938. Retrieved 2008-06-09. 
  13. ^ 40th PARLIAMENT, 2nd SESSION, EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 036, CONTENTS, Monday, March 30, 2009
  14. ^ Cooper, Alex (April 21, 2009). "Federal court to hear American war resister's appeal". Toronto Star. http://www.thestar.com/article/622278. Retrieved April 23, 2009. 
  15. ^ Diebel, Linda. "Olivia Chow: An oil painting in stoic grief." The Toronto Star, 27 August 2011. Accessed 5 September 2011.
  16. ^ Kingston, Anne. "Jack Layton and Olivia Chow: A force field of two." Maclean's, 5 September 2011. Accessed 5 September 2011.
  17. ^ "Olivia Chow rules out NDP leadership bid." CBC News. 4 September 2011.
  18. ^ http://www.oliviachow.com/about-olivia
  19. ^ NDP leader's wife speaks of battle with thyroid cancer. CBC News. April 13, 2005. [4]

External links

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