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E-BLAST: Our New Mayor, Olivia Chow

We have a new mayor: Olivia Chow. She is the first woman to be elected mayor of amalgamated Toronto, and the first racialized person to be elected mayor in Toronto's history. She won support across the city, downtown and suburbs alike, and has a strong mandate to realize her vision for the city in the years ahead. But what happens right now?

The answers will take some time because, once again, we are in uncharted waters. There is a real pattern to the beginning of a term of office, no matter the mayor's political stripe. There are also some traditions around re-assigning chairships and board memberships at the mid-point of a term (about two years in). A new mayor taking office at a random point in the term is a new one for all of us here at City Hall, Councillors and public servants alike.

Given the unprecedented circumstances, Mayor Chow has wasted no time getting started on the transition. She will be formally sworn in on July 12, but went into City Hall the day after the election to meet with the City Manager and Deputy Mayor to understand our most pressing files from an internal perspective. She has also signaled that she is taking the time to get to know our public service and absorb their detailed briefings.

While Olivia and her team settle into the Mayor's Office in the coming weeks, I can help you get to know our new mayor and, of course, thank the other candidates who were on the ballot with her.

Olivia joined me at the NetworkTO event put on by City staff last night for Collision, a global tech conference being held in Toronto this week.

I first met Olivia when I was an education activist fighting the slated closure of 134 schools across Toronto. Things were pretty dire in our neighbourhood, with 21 schools set to close in the area now known as Don Valley North.

The other moms and I knew that we should rally and march to fight these closures, but we didn't know much beyond that. Olivia and her late husband, Jack Layton, were full of advice on who to invite into the process to turn it into a movement. Olivia was instrumental in getting Mayor Mel Lastman to meet with us—ultimately, he went to Premier Harris and then the proposal was abandoned.

When I then became a School Trustee, I was appointed as the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) representative to then-Councillor Olivia Chow's Children & Youth Action Committee (CYAC). Mel Lastman had appointed her as Chair of the CYAC to have her work through all the impacts of amalgamation and downloading on our youngest Torontonians. I marveled at the way she worked with City staff to assemble a committee comprised of all the relevant agencies and school boards. Those were day-long meetings where we pulled together strategies to address all the gaps in children and youth services being caused by the municipal reforms.

As soon as I became a City Councillor, I began visiting Olivia for advice on everything from how to parse the City's oddly-formatted budget documents to how to get community benefits from developments that had already submitted their applications. Olivia's style was not to spoon feed, but to enable me to get all the information I would need by teaching me where to go to get it myself. She ran through a list of her most trusted staff members in finance and who would be most helpful. This not only helped me get through my first budget, it also prepared me for some tough years ahead.

On development challenges, Olivia gave me sage advice and pointed out that there was a world of difference between her waterfront ward and the wards north of the 401. Knowing that then-Ward 33 was facing so much subway-related growth, Olivia suggested I find a mentor in Councillor Howard Moscoe. That was great advice—it helped me bring a slew of benefits beyond the standard amount to our neighbourhood, including parks benefits, transportation capital works, and public art.

A photo of Olivia during her time as as a Toronto City Councillor.

I guess what I'm trying to tell you is that our new mayor has a long history of bringing the right people together to realize potential and find solutions. Despite a lot of negative campaign rhetoric from her opponents, I can honestly tell you that we are in good hands. I have full faith in Olivia's ability to lead our city.

We will finish the current cycle of meetings with Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie on July 11. The next day, Mayor-Elect Olivia Chow will be formally sworn in and preside over a Council session the following week. I will be sure to keep you all updated every step of the way.

Some of you will be aware that long before Olivia Chow registered to run for mayor, I publicly endorsed my friend and former Council colleague Ana Bailao. I know our new mayor won't mind me congratulating Ana on a well-run campaign and an impressive result.

The real story of this mayoral by-election is what the outcome says about you, the voters. Both here in Don Valley North and across the city you had no qualms about putting a woman in charge, and you were totally open to a mayor that was not born in Canada. At the end of the day, the race came down to two people, both of them women, both of them having arrived in Toronto as school-aged girls with very little English. Despite these barriers, both managed to succeed and realize their tremendous potential. Everyone else finished out of the running.

Now we know that every little girl in Toronto can dream big. For the next three years (at least), they will be reminded that they, too, have the potential to be mayor.


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