Hong Kong-born Olivia Chow elected mayor of Toronto

Edana Robitaille
Updated: Aug, 21, 2023
  • Published: June 28, 2023

On June 26, Toronto elected Oliva Chow as mayor.

Chow is the first visible minority, and first female, mayor of Toronto. She is also an immigrant.

She and her family arrived in Canada from Hong Kong in 1970 when she was 13 years old, living throughout her teens in an apartment in Toronto’s St James Town neighbourhood. She has lived in Toronto for her entire adult life.

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Now 67, Chow was elected to her first position in 1985 when she served on the Toronto Board of Education for six years. In 1991 she became a Metro Toronto Councillor, the first Asian-born woman to do so. She stayed in this position for 14 years until she was elected as a Member of Parliament for the NDP (New Democratic Party) in 2006.

She also served as the NDP’s immigration critic from 2006-2011. In this role, she was responsible for highlighting the shortcomings in immigration policy and holding the governing party to account.

In 2012, Chow was honoured as one of Canada’s Top 25 immigrants and in 2014, she returned to municipal politics in Toronto and ran for mayor but lost to John Tory. Tory held the position through three elections until he resigned last February, just months after being elected for his third term.

Following Tory’s resignation, over 100 candidates ran to replace him. Among them, Chow’s main competitor was Ana Bailao, also an immigrant to Canada and the third runner-up was Mark Saunders, a former police chief.

Chow won 37% of the vote. Voter turnout was also higher than usual at 40%. The October 2022 election saw only 29% of eligible voters head to the polls.

Housing the top priority

Chow told CP24 that she wants to take office within two weeks, instead of the usual six. She says her top priority is “housing, housing, housing, housing.”

“Let's get the housing, especially there are some social housing from non-profit organizations. They have been waiting for two years to get approved,” said Chow.

She says her plan would create 25,000 rent-controlled homes on property owned by the city over the next eight years. Creating more housing will ease the pressure on Toronto’s housing crisis over time and make it more affordable for newcomers to live in the city.

The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto is over $2,400 per month and the average single detached home cost $1,270,000 in the first quarter of 2023.

She also plans to reverse recent service cuts to transit service including cell service for everyone on the TTC and expanding transit options in the city.

Toronto is a city of immigrants

Olivia Chow is representative of Toronto’s current demographics. The city is home to the highest number of immigrants in Canada. According to Census 2021, 46.6% of the population of Toronto are immigrants. Also, a census report complied the city of Toronto says that women make up 53.9% of the immigrants in Toronto.

Also, 15.7% of Canada’s non-permanent residents and in 2021, 17.6% of Toronto immigrants arrived as refugees.

Further, 55% of Toronto’s immigrant population was born in Asia. Census data shows that the top three birth countries of Toronto immigrants are the Philippines, China and India.

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