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Newly elected Mayor Olivia Chow reacts after receiving a standing ovation during the Declaration of Office Ceremony at Toronto City Hall, on Wednesday, July 12.Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

Olivia Chow has officially taken office as Toronto’s new mayor, pledging to tackle major issues facing the city including affordability, housing and public safety.

Ms. Chow was sworn in on Wednesday as the city’s 66th mayor – and the first racialized person to hold the role – in front of a packed council chamber at Toronto City Hall. She was elected in a June 26 by-election prompted by the resignation of her predecessor, John Tory, who left office after acknowledging an affair with a staffer.

The new mayor says her top priority is addressing the housing crisis, starting with those who currently don’t have a safe place to stay.

“We need a plan. It’s a crisis, it’s an emergency. There has to be a plan that can immediately shelter these folks,” Ms. Chow told reporters after the swearing-in ceremony.

Tony Keller: Olivia Chow isn’t the mayor Bay Street wanted. She might be the mayor Bay Street needs

Toronto’s shelters are full most nights and many people are sleeping on the streets. There has been an influx of refugee claimants seeking shelter in recent months who the city says can no longer support without more than $157-million from the federal government.

Some temporary shelters set up in hotels during the COVID-19 pandemic are also being shut down next month as they return to regular operations, which will place even more capacity challenges on the shelter system.

Ms. Chow also inherits a city in a dire financial situation, facing a budget deficit this year of more than $900-million. A long-term fiscal forecast projects a shortfall close to $50-billion over the next decade in both operations and capital spending. She called for new funding deals with the provincial and federal governments, whom she referred to as “reluctant partners” to address the fiscal challenges.

She has had phone conversations with both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Doug Ford since being elected, and said she hopes to meet with them both as soon as possible to discuss the financial needs of the city.

During the by-election campaign, Mr. Ford said Ms. Chow’s election would be an “unmitigated disaster,” throwing his support behind candidate Mark Saunders. After Ms. Chow’s victory, the Premier said he can find “common ground” with the new mayor, although he has taken issue with her opposition to the redevelopment plans for Ontario Place and her vow to fight the province’s plans – including taking them to court if necessary.

“The comments are disappointing,” Mr. Ford said Wednesday at a press conference after a meeting of Canada’s premiers in Winnipeg.

If Toronto City Council refuses to transfer parcels of land requested by the province as part of the redevelopment plan, which includes a privately-operated spa, the province could expropriate the land.

Public safety is also a top priority for the new mayor amid a recent wave of crime. There have been several acts of violence within the past week, including the killing of 44-year-old Karolina Huebner-Makurat, who was struck by a stray bullet during a daytime shooting.

“Recent events have shaken our sense of security,” Ms. Chow said in her speech at the swearing-in ceremony. “Clearly we need to do much, much more.”

Ms. Chow returns to city hall after serving as councillor for more than 13 years before entering federal politics with the NDP in 2006. She left her MP post to run for mayor of Toronto in 2014, placing third behind Mr. Ford and Mr. Tory.

She will acquire “strong-mayor” powers introduced last year by Mr. Ford’s government. She has vowed not to use the powers that allow the mayor to veto budget decisions and select bylaws related to housing passed by council, as well as to pass certain bylaws with only one-third support. Other powers include the authority to introduce a budget, and to hire and fire senior staff.

She will also be able to choose a deputy mayor and select which councillors will lead key portfolios, but has yet to announce her plans. Ms. Chow told reporters she expects those decisions will be made soon after meeting with all the councillors and that deputy mayor Jennifer McKelvie, who held most of the mayoral responsibilities over the last five months, will remain in that position for next week’s council meeting.

Ms. Chow has already announced her intention to call a special meeting of the executive committee in August, when council is on recess, to receive an update on the city’s long-term fiscal picture.

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