A new poll shows that if Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow ran for mayor of Toronto, she would easily crush Ford Nation. We joined the passionate civil servant on a recent TTC ride to gauge her mayoral ambitions, discuss her husband’s legacy, and find out why even the best city can’t do it alone.
What better place is there to ask your opinion on what needs to be done to fix transit in the city?
Ha! That’s for sure. We have 2.6 million people in Toronto and yet there hasn’t been substantial investment towards public transit for a long time. We need new streetcars, more buses, but most importantly, the TTC needs more operating dollars to be able to provide more reliable, affordable service.
There have been a lot of different plans put forward and argued over by city council. Is there any one strategy you favour?
At the end of the day, I don’t think it matters which plan—just do it! The TTC has the highest percentage of fare-generated revenue in North America. Of every dollar it spends, 80 per cent comes from fares. In other cities the ratio is closer to 50-50.
Last year, you proposed a bill for a national transit strategy. Can you give me an update?
It’s about to get a second reading and be voted on September 19. I only need about 20 Conservative votes to get it through. After that, it will go to committee and then a third reading. If it passes through that, it will become law.
And what would the law mean?
Ideally, it would mean long-term and predictable funding. Currently, eight cents of every tax dollar you pay goes to the city. The other 92 cents go to provincial and federal governments, so of course they need to take a big load of responsibility.
Earlier this month, you participated in your first Pride parade following your husband’s death. Was that a tough day or a celebratory one?
It was difficult, but also very celebratory, because there were so many people there and we [the federal NDP] have a new leader. It’s hard to stay sad when you’re getting squirted by water guns.
Did you know that people were going to be sporting paper moustaches as a tribute to Jack?
No, I had no idea they were going to do that. It was very touching and also funny and creative. The gay and lesbian community is very creative.
Last year, after your husband died, you showed remarkable strength. Have you always been able to put on a brave face?
I don’t know. I haven’t experienced that kind of death before, so it’s hard to say. There was a lot of love. People were drawing hearts in chalk on my doorstep. I felt very supported and comforted by that outpouring. Most widows don’t experience that.
I know you’re aware that a recent poll showed that if a mayoral election were held now, you’d easily trounce Team Ford. Any chance we might see your name on the 2014 ballot?
I chalk that all up to a slow summer news day, but thank you to Torontonians for the love. As a member of parliament, I’m busy trying to track down money for our city. Toronto can’t do it alone, whether it’s the crumbling Gardiner, transit, child poverty, or hunger—all of this stuff that the city is trying to get done. We really need some support. We need a federal partner.
So is that a definite no?
I love Toronto, but there are many other places in the country that desperately need help.
So then, no?
I’m an MP.
Yes, but you didn’t quite say no to the mayor thing.
Is there someone else who you think would make a good 2014 mayoral candidate?
It’s so early. We’re not even out of 2012 yet. Rob Ford has two years of being mayor left, so I think it’s important to focus on how we can improve the city with the people we have.
How did you get involved in politics?
Around 1979 or 1980, I went to a rally to push the Canadian government to let Vietnamese boat people come into the country. At that time they were drowning at sea, being raped and robbed. Canada’s a big country, these are refugees. I thought we should let them come in. So that was my first political campaign.
You’re obviously a very busy person. Will you get time to chill out over the summer? Does Olivia Chow chill out?
Yes, yes, yes. Yesterday I was at Camp Madawaska to refresh my whitewater canoe skills. This time next week I’ll be canoeing on a river in the Arctic.
Finally, I wanted to ask you about your Chow-style barbecue-chicken sandwich. I know you were the runner-up in a recent recipe contest put on by the Chicken Farmers of Canada.
My recipe is very Toronto. It combines mint and basil, which is traditionally European, with Thai spices and then cumin and turmeric, which are Indian. I think I lost out on the win because it is quite spicy, which not everyone likes.
Sounds like a rematch might be in order.
Street meat or pizza?
What would you save in a fire?
Beach or mountain?
Wine or beer?
What’s on your iPod?
Adele, Annie Lennox, Coldplay.