OTTAWA – Olivia Chow resigned her seat in Parliament Wednesday as she prepared to launch her bid to replace Rob Ford as mayor of the country’s largest city.
Chow is expected to formally kick off her mayoral campaign Thursday in the inner city Toronto neighbourhood of St. James Town, where she grew up.
She is considered one of the front-runners in the race that includes one-time provincial Conservative leader and failed mayoral candidate John Tory, city councillor Karen Stintz and infamous incumbent Rob Ford.
When asked about the threat Chow poses, Ford said he couldn’t wait for October’s municipal election.
“I’ll put my proven track record of saving taxpayers’ money and customer service against anyone any day. Let the people decide,” said the controversial mayor who was stripped of most of his powers late last year after a series of personal scandals.
“My people are strong. My Ford Nation people aren’t budging and we’re doing great. I can’t wait, it’s going to get interesting.”
Jamey Heath, who will be communications director for Chow’s campaign, said the former NDP MP will be the only “progressive” contender in the already crowded field.
But he predicted she’ll appeal to people across the political spectrum, including the blue-collar folks who supported Ford’s no-nonsense populism but who can be persuaded it’s time for a change following Ford’s admitted “drunken stupors” and use of crack cocaine.
“We think there are two candidates who can appeal to sort of blue-collar, regular voters in Toronto, one of whom is Rob Ford and one of whom is Olivia Chow,” Heath said.
“We don’t see John Tory being able to connect with them. We think Olivia can.”
Chow’s campaign launch will stress her personal story, growing up in Toronto as the daughter of struggling immigrant parents, a story Heath said many Torontonians can identify with.
Chow served as a Toronto city councillor from 1991 until she was elected to the House of Commons in 2006 in a Toronto riding.
Her departure from Parliament was greeted with “mixed emotions” from federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair, who said his party’s loss is Toronto’s gain.
“Olivia Chow is a fighter who will always defend the public’s interest first and foremost,” he said.
“I thank her wholeheartedly for her constant support and her important contributions to making Canada a fairer, more prosperous country.”
Chow’s campaign will involve New Democrats like Heath and Brian Topp, who were key to her late husband Jack Layton’s success in the federal arena.
But it will be headed by veteran Conservative strategist John Laschinger, who masterminded David Miller’s successful mayoral campaigns, while her war room will be run by Warren Kinsella, a well-known Liberal.