Olivia Chow says she is giving much thought to the idea of asking voters in Toronto to elect her as mayor.
“I love the city of Toronto, it’s my home,” Ms. Chow told a news conference Thursday where she and other New Democrat MPs called upon the federal Conservative government to help Canada’s largest city clean up after last month’s disastrous ice storm.
“I am seriously considering running for mayor,” said Ms. Chow. “I have not made a decision and once I make that decision I will let you know.”
It was perhaps the strongest acknowledgment yet that Ms. Chow, a former Toronto city councillor and the widow of former NDP leader Jack Layton, plans to challenge Rob Ford for his job. Rumours of her candidacy have been circulating for months and she is considered a front-runner even though she has not officially entered the race.
Both she and John Tory, a Toronto radio show host who was a former leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party, are said to have large organizations of campaigners in place. They have been working for weeks on everything from social-media strategies to policy positions, as well as preparing to raise the $1.5-million to $2-million needed to mount a serious campaign.
“Yes, I have some friends that are very eager,” Ms. Chow told reporters. “They are out meeting and talking to each other. I am here working for my colleagues, the wonderful team of Members of Parliament, representing, fighting for Toronto and I am just awfully glad I am part of the team.”
Toronto’s city council asked this week for the federal government to join the province of Ontario in chipping in a combined $114-million to pay the cost of reparations following the ice storm that occurred just before Christmas. The storm left hundreds of thousands of residents in the city without power – for many days in the cases of some – and creating an estimated $106-million in damages.
Federal New Democrats compared the help given to their city by the federal government to that which was offered to Calgary after the devastating flood last June.
“Calgary got help fairly immediately, within four months. So should Toronto get help,” said Ms. Chow. “They had a flood, we had a flood and an ice storm. So Stephen Harper, be fair, act now, help out.”
Toronto experienced a flood last July that was significantly less damaging than the one in Calgary. Calgary received $2.8-billion from the federal government for flood relief, but it did not come until four months after the disaster.
Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said it is unfortunate that the NDP didn't take the time to understand the process of the federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangement program before speaking to the media.
“Contrary to what the NDP has said, there is a non-political, proven process in place for the provision of financial assistance to provinces and territories in the event of a large scale disaster,” Mr. MacDonald said in an e-mail. “We have not received any request from Ontario for assistance related to the ice storm in Toronto and other parts of southern Ontario, however we always stand ready to assist provinces for eligible expenses under the agreement.”
Reporters pointed out to the New Democrats that there is a process that must be followed and that it has been just three days since the Toronto requested assistance from upper levels of government, which means Ottawa may simply not have had time to react.
Andrew Cash, the MP for Davenport who is the head of the New Democrats’ Greater Toronto Area caucus, agreed that there is a process that must be followed. “But it’s been a few days now,” Mr. Cash said. “We’ve heard absolutely nothing from the federal government. In fact we’ve heard nothing from the federal government since before Christmas, since the beginning of the ice storm, and that’s unacceptable.”
In the immediate aftermath of the ice storm, Prime Minister Stephen Harper took to Twitter to say: “Thoughts are with those without power due to the ice storm ... Please stay safe.” But he did not issue an official statement of concern as he did following the Calgary flood.