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Toronto mayoral candidates John Tory, Doug Ford and Olivia Chow take part in a lively debate at Brown College's Waterfront Campus on Oct 8 2014.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Olivia Chow likes to say that she's not a "fast" or "smooth" talker. It's a self-deprecating way to explain her occasional struggles to be heard amid bombastic mayoral debates.

It's also an acknowledgement that her English – while perfectly understandable – isn't as good as her opponents. That hasn't stopped her winning multiple elections, at both the city and federal level, but it was raised this week as a possible reason for her languishing in the polls.

"It may look to some voters, many of whom struggle with English, as if she doesn't care enough about communicating with them to get her nouns and verbs to agree," Rick Salutin wrote in Friday's Toronto Star. "I'm not saying that's so, I know it's not. But we're talking about impressions."

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Ms. Chow came to Canada from Hong Kong at the age of 13 and her background prompted racist heckling during at least one debate.

Her people have said that she is not as fast during rapid-fire exchanges because she translates in her head as she goes. The possible political drawbacks of her speaking ability have generally remained a taboo subject for pundits, though. And when the issue was raised she was quick to hit back.

"[He] needs to open [his] eyes and look at what this city represents," Ms. Chow said Friday morning. "A lot of people that live in this city speaks with an accent. But they become top surgeons, top scientists. It's quite astounding that you have journalists that want to pick on my language capacity. I have no problem communicating, I don't believe."

The analysis was part of a list of "potential incitements" that Mr. Salutin suggested could be swaying public opinion. But Ms. Chow brushed it off.

"Actions speak louder than words, right," she said. "You want a mayor that can get things done."

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