Skip to main content

Federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair announces that Olivia Chow will be running for the NDP in the riding of Spadina-Fort York during a news conference in downtown Toronto on Tuesday, July 28, 2015.

Olivia Chow is staking her political future on the rising surge of the federal New Democrats and her own ability to challenge a popular Liberal incumbent in a Toronto riding that is not the same as the one she held for more than eight years.

Ms. Chow, the 58-year-old widow of NDP icon Jack Layton, announced in the rec room of a downtown condo on Tuesday that she wants to represent the party in Spadina-Fort York in the election that is expected on Oct. 19.

Flanked by New Democratic Leader Thomas Mulcair, child-care advocate Martha Friendly and a phalanx of parents holding their noisy toddlers, Ms. Chow pitched herself as a champion of young urban families – someone who will fight for better child care, urban transit and a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

"Canadians are ready for change because, after 10 long years of Stephen Harper, his plan just isn't working," Ms. Chow told the crowd, mostly comprised of journalists.

But Ms. Chow, a former municipal councillor and failed mayoral candidate as well as a veteran federal politician, knows her main opponents will not be the Prime Minister and his Tories. The Conservatives have no strength in south-central Toronto.

Rather, the battle will be against Adam Vaughan, the Liberal who won her old riding of Trinity-Spadina when she quit last year to run for mayor of Toronto. She placed third, behind John Tory and Doug Ford.

Mr. Vaughan, who is a former Toronto city councillor and was a prominent broadcast journalist before that, questioned Ms. Chow's commitment to being an MP.

"I'm in Ottawa to get work done. It's not just another opportunity to be a politician," he said in an interview after Ms. Chow's announcement. "Olivia is somebody who pursues the opportunity to serve and she pursues it at every level. She can explain why she jumps from race to race."

Ms. Chow defended her decision to seek the Toronto mayoralty, saying she was responding to public pressure to run. And "I have nothing against Adam Vaughan personally," she insisted. "Let's look forward. One should really think about the future, especially our kids."

But much is at stake, both for her and for the New Democrats.

"Bringing back Olivia Chow is a symbolic gesture from Tom Mulcair that he is ready to take Jack Layton's legacy to the next level and that he wants to connect with the Layton coalition of 2011 and he wants Olivia Chow to be a key player in that," said Nik Nanos, the president of Nanos Research.

If a national "orange wave" happens, such as the one that swept through Quebec the previous time and made the NDP Official Opposition, Mr. Nanos said, "that will be a significant advantage for Olivia Chow."

The new riding of Spadina-Fort York, which was carved out of Trinity-Spadina during a national redistribution, would seem to be less New Democratic and more Liberal than the seat she once owned.

Of particular interest, says Nelson Wiseman, a political science expert at the University of Toronto, is the wall of condominiums that has risen along the Toronto waterfront that houses many young professionals. This demographic tends to be fertile ground for the Liberals.

"It is going to be a great battle," Dr. Wiseman said. But he still sees an advantage for Ms. Chow. "If the NDP cannot win a riding like Spadina, it's going to be the third party in the House of Commons."

The Liberals, who admit they have a tough race on their hands in Spadina-Fort York, point out that Ms. Chow's mayoral campaign fell apart. And they say Mr. Vaughan will run hard and "scared" no matter who the competition is, which makes him a tough contender.

The New Democrats say Ms. Chow is also a fighter and is not expecting a cake walk. But they say she has extra motivation to win because a loss after her mayoral trouncing would do irreparable harm to her political career. It is a calculation they say she has made.

On paper, Mr. Vaughan and Ms. Chow both have strong municipal track records, large personalities and have delivered much as politicians, Mr. Nanos said. "In many campaigns, local candidates don't matter," he said. "In this riding, they are going to matter significantly."

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct