|Member of Parliament
January 23, 2006
|Preceded by||Tony Ianno|
|Metro Toronto Councillor, Downtown Ward|
|Preceded by||Dale Martin|
|Succeeded by||Municipal amalgamation of Toronto|
|Toronto City Councillor for Ward 24|
|Preceded by||new ward|
|Succeeded by||ward redistribution|
|Toronto City Councillor for Ward 20|
|Preceded by||new ward|
|Succeeded by||Martin Silva|
March 24, 1957 |
|Political party||New Democratic Party|
|Spouse(s)||Jack Layton (m. 1988; wid. 2011)|
|Alma mater||University of Toronto|
|Religion||United Church of Canada|
Olivia Chow (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. Chow is the widow of former NDP and Opposition Leader Jack Layton; they were married from 1988 until his death from cancer in 2011. She speaks Cantonese, Mandarin and English. In May 2012, Chow was named one of the top 25 Canadian immigrants in Canada by Canadian Immigrant magazine. Chow's personal memoir, titled My Journey, was published January 21, 2014.
Early life and municipal career
Chow was born in Hong Kong and emigrated to Canada with her family (mother Ho Sze) in 1970 at the age of 13. She attended Jarvis Collegiate Institute. She was a Chinese Baptist before, but is now a member of the United Church of Canada. 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 Metropolitan Toronto Council in 1991 for the Downtown Ward 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 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.
Chow was voted "Best City Councillor" on numerous occasions by Toronto's alternative weeklies Now Magazine and Eye Weekly. In May 2012, Chow was named one of the top 25 Canadian immmigrants in Canada by Canadian immigrant magazine.
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 by 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 insinuating that Chow was a Chow Chow dog and said of her husband, "...I just want to say that I think Jack Layton is an asshole..." Layton denounced the comments about Chow 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 was 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."
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, Britain's BBC and the New Zealand press. 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."  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. 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, and her and Layton's partnership in both life and politics was eulogized. Subsequently, she ruled out a bid for the leadership of the NDP and pledged neutrality in the leadership race.
Outside of politics
Chow was an artist before becoming a politician and still paints occasionally. 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.
On August 20, 2012 she unveiled a statue dedicated to her husband Jack Layton, tributes to him were written in English, Chinese and French. The statue is located in Harbour Square Park East.
|Canadian federal election, 2011: Trinity—Spadina|
|New Democratic||Olivia Chow||35,493||54.1||+13.2||?|
|Total valid votes/Expense limit||65,560||100.00||–||?|
|Total rejected ballots||–||–|
|Canadian federal election, 2008: Trinity—Spadina|
|New Democratic||Olivia Chow||24,442||40.88||-5.15||$87,231|
|Independent||Carlos Santos Almeida||164||0.27||–||$541|
|Total valid votes/Expense limit||59,796||100.00||–||$94,303|
|Total rejected ballots||–||–|
|Canadian federal election, 2006: Trinity—Spadina|
|New Democratic||Olivia Chow||28,748||46.03||+3.99||$78,702|
|Progressive Canadian||Asif Hossain||392||0.63||-0.37||$257|
|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|
|Canadian federal election, 2004: Trinity—Spadina|
|New Democratic||Olivia Chow||22,397||42.04||+3.87||$77,070|
|Progressive Canadian||Asif Hossain||531||1.00||–||$24|
|Canadian Action||Tristan Alexander Downe-Dewdney||91||0.17||–||N/A|
|Total valid votes||53,276||100.00|
|Total rejected ballots||329||0.61|
|Note: Conservative vote is compared to the total of the Canadian Alliance vote and Progressive Conservative vote in 2000 election.|
|Canadian federal election, 1997: Trinity—Spadina|
|New Democratic||Olivia Chow||16,413||40.81||+13.83|
|Progressive Conservative||Danielle Wai Mascall||2,793||6.95||-1.15|
|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||–|
|Canadian Action||Thomas P. Beckerle||130||0.32||–|
|Total valid votes||40,214||100.00|
- "Trinity-Spandina - Canada Votes 2011". CBC News. Retrieved 2011-05-03.
- Sanjay Agnihotri (May 29, 2012). "Canadian Immigrant Magazine and RBC Honour Canada’s Top 25". Canadian Immigrant. Retrieved September 22, 2012.
- "About The Book". My Journey by Olivia Chow. HarperCollins Canada. Retrieved 29 January 2014.
- Best of Toronto 2001: Reader's Poll Award. NOW Magazine. October 25, 2001. 
- Best of Toronto. NOW Magazine. October 28, 2004
- NDP's Olivia Chow wins bid for seat on third try. CTV News. January 24, 2006. 
- Liberal exec quits over his blog remarks about NDPers. CBC News. December 27, 2005. 
- "Canada chides Japan on sex slaves". BBC News. 2007-11-29. Archived from the original on 2007-12-01. Retrieved 2007-11-29.
- Austen, Ian (July 16, 2008). "Canada Expels an American Deserter From the Iraq War". The New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
- "Head-to-head: Refuge for deserters?". BBC News. June 11, 2008. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
- "US deserter appeals deportation". Television New Zealand. Reuters. August 15, 2008. Retrieved November 1, 2011.
- Smith, Joanna (2008-06-03). "MPs vote to give asylum to U.S. military deserters". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 2008-07-19.
- "Report - Iraq War Resisters / Rapport –Opposants a la guerre en Irak". House of Commons / Chambre des Communes, Ottawa, Canada. Retrieved 2008-06-09.
- "Official Report * Table of Contents * Number 104 (Official Version)". House of Commons / Chambre des Communes, Ottawa, Canada. Retrieved 2008-06-09.
- 40th PARLIAMENT, 2nd SESSION, EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 036, CONTENTS, Monday, March 30, 2009
- Cooper, Alex (April 21, 2009). "Federal court to hear American war resister's appeal". Toronto Star. Retrieved April 23, 2009.
- Diebel, Linda. "Olivia Chow: An oil painting in stoic grief." The Toronto Star, 27 August 2011. Accessed 5 September 2011.
- Kingston, Anne. "Jack Layton and Olivia Chow: A force field of two." Maclean's, 5 September 2011. Accessed 5 September 2011.
- "Olivia Chow rules out NDP leadership bid." CBC News. 4 September 2011.
- NDP leader's wife speaks of battle with thyroid cancer. CBC News. April 13, 2005.