Olivia Chow says she is “seriously considering” running for mayor of Toronto. Her new book, timed to hit bookstores next week, is the surest sign yet that she will be on the ballot.
A memoir, My Journey, reads more like an introduction than a conclusion, a chance for the former school-board trustee and city councillor to reacquaint voters with her life before she became a Toronto MP and gained national attention at the side of her husband, the late NDP opposition leader Jack Layton.
The book “strives to paint a picture of a political life that has spanned decades and continues to unfold,” she writes at one point.
It also provides her with an opportunity to frame future political conversations in her own words and set the record straight on past controversies that are likely to come up in a campaign.
The book holds few surprises for anyone who has followed Ms. Chow’s political career, but it fills in with great detail her personal life, including frank descriptions of her parents’ troubled marriage and her own struggles with abusive partners. My Journey traces Ms. Chow’s early life growing up in Hong Kong, the daughter of middle-class parents, and the challenges she and her parents faced when they came to Canada and struggled to find work.
It is silent on Ms. Chow’s political ambitions. The only hint of the persistent speculation that she will challenge Mayor Rob Ford in the October vote is in the last chapter. It comes in a reference to remarks made at a public event by former mayor David Crombie that were directed at her. “You have to get behind a good mayoralty candidate dressed in yellow,” Ms. Chow recounts him saying, adding only that “Everyone laughed.”
The bulk of the book is devoted to Ms. Chow’s political career, her time as a school-board trustee and later at city hall. She takes on many subjects, devoting several pages to telling her side of her clash with the Toronto Police Association and a later controversy created by her critical comments regarding the force’s decision to use horses at an anti-poverty demonstration.
“I knew which way the political winds were blowing,” she writes, explaining she resigned from the Police Services Board even though she was confident her remarks did not overstep her role or breach the Police Services Act.
Ms. Chow also tries to clear the air on the accusations that she and Mr. Layton lived in subsidized units when they both had apartments in a downtown Toronto co-op housing building before and after they were married.
“Both Jack and I paid full market rent for our apartments,” she writes, later adding, “The self-appointed lynch mob sought to destroy the safe haven Jack and I sought not just for our family but for the community. To this day, the slander is repeated by people who mistakenly believed it at the time – as well as by opponents who know better.”
In a chapter called “Lessons Learned,” Ms. Chow lays out her fiscal credentials – arguing that progressives are too often “unfairly painted as spendthrifts,” and warning readers not to be fooled by “hand-over-heart promises to lower taxes.” Such promises, she says, can end up costing more in other ways, such as higher fees for services.
The most personal section of the book deals with the roller coaster of emotions she experienced in 2011, first with the NDP election success that made Mr. Layton leader of the opposition, followed quickly by news that he once again had cancer and his death a short time after.
Her discussion of that death and her own struggles to cope with its aftermath include heart-wrenching details – what they ate on his last evening, how she struggled to use a coffee maker that was always his domain.
“Little did I know how sorrow gnaws at the bone, how it creeps up at the most unexpected place, how devastating and soul destroying it can be,” she writes.
The book’s final statement is “The journey continues” – a conclusion that will do nothing to dampen speculation about Ms. Chow’s ambitions for mayor.