As Mayor Rob Ford cooled his heels in court for the second time since the summer, a petite woman on a bicycle held a press conference near the crumbling Gardiner Expressway to talk about the need for more infrastructure spending. It was Olivia Chow’s second Toronto media appearance in a week.
Coincidence? She says she is only doing her job as a federal MP, but with the mayor’s troubles deepening, eyes are turning to the onetime city councillor to take on the role of giant slayer and rid the city of the distracted Mr. Ford.
“I’ve been asked by more and more people,” she says when I enquire whether she’s running for mayor. “I love the city and it’s my home and so I’m paying attention to what people are saying to me.”
They approached her at a Remembrance Day ceremony. They approached her at a Stephen Lewis charity benefit. “They come and say, ‘Olivia, you should do this. I’ll volunteer. I’ll knock on doors.’ ”
So far, all she will say is that, “I’m thinking about it, but it’s two years away.”
True. The election isn’t till Oct. 27, 2014. But election campaigns last a long time in this city and this time campaigning could start even sooner. The head-shaking frustration, embarrassment and sheer disbelief that many Torontonians are feeling in the face of Mr. Ford’s epic series of gaffes and bobbles is lending a special urgency to the search for someone who can beat him. Some back-room strategists are already urging other anti-Ford candidates to shelve their “vanity” (as one of them puts it), step aside and give Ms. Chow a clear shot.
One of those potential candidates, Trinity-Spadina councillor Adam Vaughan, says that if Ms. Chow runs, it would be “part of the equation” in his deliberations over whether to run, but her candidacy would not necessarily keep him out. In fact, he argues, the fact that Mr. Ford is struggling and so clearly beatable might tempt more people to enter the fray. “It may mean a more crowded field with a much more dynamic race.”
Jostling among rival parties could complicate the picture, too. Would the Liberal establishment rally behind a dyed-in-the wool NDPer like Ms. Chow in the cause of beating Mr. Ford? Some Liberals may balk at supporting the candidate of a party that, under Ms. Chow’s husband Jack Layton, wiped the floor with the Liberals in downtown Toronto in the 2011 election. They might prefer a different candidate such as Shelley Carroll, the Don Valley East councillor and former budget chief.
It is all supposition for now. But there is no doubt Ms. Chow would be a formidable candidate. One poll last summer showed she would trounce Mr. Ford in an election.
As a city councillor from 1991, and a federal MP for Trinity-Spadina since 2006, she is a well-known figure in the city. Her dignified bearing after Mr. Layton’s death last year earned her the admiration of many.
Her personal story as a Hong Kong immigrant who came to Toronto when she was 13 could help her in this diverse city. So could her stand on crime. She came to the defence of a Chinatown shopkeeper who was arrested for nabbing and holding a shoplifter. In her other media appearance in the past week, she called on Ottawa to improve its witness-protection program.
She insists that she can’t be pigeonholed as a tax-and-spend leftie. As a councillor, she says, she was “queen of the reserve funds,” always demanding that the city put money aside for a rainy day. Still, if she emerges as the main candidate against Mr. Ford, voters would be faced with a stark and not terribly palatable choice between sticking with Mr. Ford’s out-to-lunch conservative populism and swinging way back to the left just four years after the departure of David Miller.
For now, Ms. Chow says she is focused on her job as MP and firmly resists taking shots at Mr. Ford. “I can’t comment on the last few years since he’s the mayor because I’m not here enough,” she says, somewhat implausibly. And besides, Mr. Ford was “duly elected by the people of Toronto.”
Will she be the one to un-elect him?