By Glyn Bowerman
Olivia Chow has been expected to join Toronto’s mayoral race for some time, but that didn’t take the steam out of her official announcement Thursday, to a packed house of supporters.
Chow took the podium, to thunderous applause at St. Simon-the-Apostle, a church in the downtown neighbourhood where she grew up.
Her kickoff speech didn’t get too heavy into specifics, promises, or platforms. Chow did align herself with fellow candidate, David Soknacki, in supporting an LRT, instead of a subway, to replace Scarborough’s aging Scarborough Rapid Transit.
The LRT choice, she said, will bring new transit to the area four years faster, with four more stops than the proposed subway line.
“We need to move faster now, not 20 years from now,” Chow said.
Without committing to specific revenue tools to pay for transit, improving transit was nevertheless one of the dominant themes of the announcement, as Chow recalled previous times of Toronto.
“We had public transit that would take you where you wanted to go,” Chow said. “It was quick, efficient, and affordable. And my friends: that’s why I am here today.”
Chow, who was a longtime city councillor before becoming an MP in 2006, also had some words for the incumbent Rob Ford. The troubled mayor, she said, is no role model for her granddaughters.
She previewed what might become one of her campaign themes: Ford has failed to make critical investments and create jobs.
“The current mayor’s disappointing leadership has let us down over and over again,” said Chow.
“We need a new mayor for a better city, and I am here to apply for the job.”
Perhaps addressing critics’ accusations she is a “tax-and-spend” politician, Chow told the crowd she would mind the public purse.
“We’re not going to get there by following the failed policies of the last four years,” Chow said. “No matter which candidate is flogging them today.”
In a scrum with the press, following the speech, Chow addressed other criticisms which sprang up immediately after word got out she would resign as MP Wednesday, and officially declare her intention to run.
Campaign staffers for rivals Soknacki and John Tory shared a mail-out from Chow’s parliamentary office on Twitter, with Tory’s campaign manager Nick Kouvalis – formerly Ford’s campaign manager and chief of staff – calling it the use of taxpayer money to promote Chow’s mayoral campaign.
Chow said the mail-out was prepared in Jan., and was intended to inform her federal constituents about issues surrounding Canada Post’s door-to-door delivery and oil shipments – the sort involved in the Lac Megantic disaster – which were travelling through her former Trinity—Spadina riding.
She was also asked about a number of Toronto issues such as the crumbling Gardiner Expressway, jets at Billy Bishop airport and affordable housing.
“I will have lots of specifics later on,” Chow said. “Today is the first day.”
Chow’s stepson, councillor Mike Layton, echoed to the press the need for new leadership.
“Folks voted for something, they thought they were buying a sale of goods. It just wasn’t true.”
“As an MP in Ottawa,” Layton said, “she’s brought strong leadership as the most vocal advocate for a national transit strategy, for infrastructure funding for cities. That’s what the city needs: a strong leader that’s prepared to get in there and step-up for the city of Toronto.”
Asked if Chow can shake her image as a “downtowner,” Layton said Chow demonstrated her ability to bridge communities during her time on city council.
“That’s what the folks want in a leader at city hall: experience of bringing people together and then talking shared solutions to the problems that we face all across the city.”
Chow brings the number of heavy-hitting candidates to five, facing off against Ford, Tory, Soknacki and former TTC Chair Karen Stintz.
Toronto will head to the polls Oct. 27.