Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

What Olivia Chow needs to do to get back in the Toronto mayoral race

By: Metro Published on Mon Aug 18 2014

A year ago, before Toronto’s mayoral campaign had even started, Forum Research released poll results showing that Olivia Chow was going to be really hard to beat.

In a multi-person match-up pitting her against Mayor Rob Ford, John Tory and Karen Stintz, Chow scored 39 per cent, with 12 points separating her from her closest competitor.

But that was then. A recent Forum Research poll put her at just 25 per cent, 10 points behind Tory and in a statistical dead heat with Ford.

So, um, what happened?

Some of this, I’m sure, can just be chalked up to the vagaries of polls. I hear they’re wrong sometimes. But it isn’t just the one poll suggesting Chow has lost some momentum — her decline has been observed by a few of them.

Anecdotally, I’m hearing less enthusiasm about her candidacy from the kind of downtown progressives that should be fired up about the Chow for mayor push.

That should be a big concern for Chow and the army of people working to put her in the mayor’s office. It might be time for a campaign retooling. Here’s what I’d suggest:

First, Chow needs to embrace her role as the progressive candidate in this race. The Tory camp loves to label Chow as the “NDP candidate” as if that’s an insult, but Chow shouldn’t run from her roots. People knew she was an NDP member when she was dominating the early polls.

It didn’t hurt her. And why would it? Historically, the NDP has been pretty darned popular in Toronto.

Chow should leverage that, and back it up with real progressive policies. Up until now, her campaign has been handcuffed by an ill-advised promise to stick to residential property tax increases around the rate of inflation. It’s put Chow in the odd position of arguing both that the city has under-invested in elements such as transit and child care, and also that the city doesn’t need to increase its revenue to fix that under-investment.

It makes for bad math. And bad math shouldn’t win elections.

If Chow believes an enhanced program, a new service or a new subway line will make Toronto a better place to live, she should be prepared to talk about how she’d pay for those things – and even how she’d pay for them if the provincial and federal governments don’t pony up some new money.

In short, to regain momentum in this race, Olivia Chow should take the radical step of being Olivia Chow: the left-wing, NDP orange Olivia Chow who was so popular in hypothetical polls last year; the same Olivia Chow who was once anointed as the progressive replacement for Rob Ford.

We haven’t seen that Olivia Chow much lately.

This post was originally published at on 2014-08-18T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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