Canadian politician
(Parliamentarian, 2006-2014)

Olivia Chow is a Canadian politician who ran for parliament (as part of the New Democratic Party of Canada) in the 2004 Canadian Federal election. Despite strong showing in the polls, however, she came in second to Liberal Tony Ianno. She was elected to Parliament in 2006 and re-elected in 2008 and 2011. She resigned in 2014 to run for the mayoralty of Toronto.

Early life and career

Chow was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to Canada at the age of thirteen. Her year of birth doesn't seem to be available anywhere on the internet, including on her official website and on several other biographies. She spoke only Cantonese upon her arrival, and has said that she had a difficult time adjusting to Canada. She learned to speak English reasonably quickly and started volunteering in her area.

She studied fine arts at the University of Guelph and is said to be a talented sculptor. Chow was an assistant to Trinity Spadina MP Dan Heap in the 1980s and was elected as a school board trustee from 1985 to 1991. It was in 1991 that she decided to run for Toronto's city council and was elected that year. According to her website, she was the first Asian woman to be elected to the council. Throughout this phase of her career, she was dedicated to solving problems like child poverty and homelessness.

The city of Toronto and several of the smaller cities that surround it merged in 1997 and several of the wards were redistributed. Chow was once again elected as the councillor for the "new" downtown ward. She continued to support her "usual" issues.

Chow was also a huge supporter of environmental issues during her early days on the council. She also increased resources for cyclists -- and cycles from her home to her office every day.

Before Prime Minister Paul Martin called the 2004 federal election, Chow said she would resign her seat on the council in order to run for federal parliament. She won the NDP nomination in her riding of Trinity Spadina.

Running for parliament

The election campaign was a tight one, and Chow received a great deal of media attention due to her switch from city council. The fact that she was also married to the party's leader also generated some media attention -- had she won, they would have been the first husband-and-wife team in Canadian parliament. Though Layton and Chow were (obviously) running in different ridings, the lines between their individual campaigns became blurry at certain points. Dennis Mills, the Liberal incumbent in Layton's riding, chose to show up at one of Chow's campaign events to debate her on key issues in Layton's platform. When he tried to leave, she ran down the street after him.

Chow had run against her closest competition -- Liberal MP Tony Ianno -- years earlier, in the 1997 Canadian Federal election. She was unable to edge him out on either occasion, and though Layton was elected to parliament, Chow had been defeated and returned to city council.

Despite a strong showing in the polls, not everyone in Toronto as happy about Chow's decision to run for parliament. Toronto had held a municipal election months before the federal election had been called, and she announced her decision to step down (if elected) shortly after being returned to office by her municipal constituents.

Chow was elected to the House of Commons in the 2006 Canadian federal election and re-elected in the 2008 Canadian federal election.

Personal details

Olivia Chow has been married to NDP leader (and former fellow city councillor) Jack Layton for several years. They live in Toronto with his children from a previous marriage and with Chow's mother. After the NDP's surge in the 2011 federal election, Layton and Chow moved to Stornoway, the official residence of the opposition leader.

Layton died on August 22, 2011.

Chow is fluent in English and Cantonese.

About Oliva 30 July 04
Olivia Chow 30 July 04

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