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Olivia Chow has a very good platform, too bad it probably came too late

Way back in March, a column by the Toronto Star’s Bob Hepburn posited that Olivia Chow was about to do two things.

First, he said, she was going to register to run for mayor of Toronto. Second, he suggested she’d be releasing her full platform right away.

He ended up being half right. Chow did register to run soon after Hepburn’s column, but her campaign launch was missing the full platform part.

To get that, we had to wait more than six months. And those six months weren’t great for Chow. Between the time she registered and the time her campaign released a 45-page platform document on Oct 3, she fell from favourite to long shot, languishing at around 20 per cent in most recent polls.

It’s dangerous to play What If, but it's hard not to wonder if Chow’s run might have gone a bit differently if her team released the platform on day one.

There are certainly enough reasons to think it may have helped. It may have forced her opponents to follow suit and release platforms of their own, which her two closest competitors still haven’t done. It could have let her set the agenda on key issues of the election.

More importantly, the long-awaited platform turned out to be pretty appealing to the progressive voters that were meant to be her base and may have given them concrete reason to get behind the campaign early on.

It’s not perfect, of course, but I was impressed with a bunch of her policy planks. She has the most realistic transit plan when compared to Doug Ford and John Tory — that much we’ve known for a while. But I also liked her strategies to combat gridlock, especially the no-brainer notion that should charge developers who block traffic lanes with construction hoarding similar rates as the City of Chicago levies. And the pledge to give post-secondary campuses the ability to make and sell student transit passes themselves is a nice touch.

And the hits keep on coming. Her bike plan is solid, with a pledge to build 200 kilometres of lanes. Her waterfront plan is decent, with a clear answer on the island airport expansion issue and a promise to let Waterfront Toronto keep on keeping on with their impressive work so far. And her childcare plan is at the very least notable for existing in a political climate where a lot of politicians just don’t seem to talk about childcare.

However, the real standout is Chow’s affordable housing strategy. Her pledge to get developers to devote 20 per cent of the units in new residential buildings to affordable housing is ambitious, but the direction toward inclusionary zoning is one the city needs to take if it doesn’t want to push the remainder of its low-income population to the outskirts.

I was also happy to see a hint of acknowledgement that perhaps the Toronto Community Housing Corporation — North America’s second biggest landlord — is simply too big to function effectively. Her plan to “improve governance in public housing by establishing a pilot project to allow a more decentralized, tenant- and community-driven approach” is long overdue.

I have quibbles with some of the other items. Like many municipal politicians who come from NDP roots, Chow seems frustrated by the fact that local governments have access to virtually no progressive tax tools. There’s no municipal equivalent of a tax increase on high-income earners or corporations.

Backed into this corner, Chow leans way too heavily on the land transfer tax. Sure, increasing the tax on homebuyers who purchase properties for more than $2 million seems harmless enough, but it brings in only a small amount of revenue and may bring in even less if Toronto’s housing market starts to slide. I'd like to see more acknowledgement that city hall will need to look to the property tax base to pay for some of these services.

There are a few more areas that should have received more attention. Most conspicuous by its absence is the lack of a detailed plan on accessibility. Chow does promise to bring back city hall’s disabilities improvement committee, but I’d sure like to see a stronger pledge to make all TTC stations accessible by a more reasonable date than 2025.

But the good outweighs the bad in Chow’s platform. There’s a lot here to like.

Which makes it all the more disappointing to admit that it all probably comes too late. Despite being the first of the leading candidates still in the race to come out with a full platform, Chow’s launch didn’t get a whole lot of attention. Had Chow come out stronger and faster with this set of ideas, maybe she’d be more competitive in the race today. At the very least, she’d have a better chance of being the “anyone” in the “anyone but Ford” narrative that’s dominated most of this election.

But it wasn’t to be. Still, these are some very nice ideas Chow has here. If only she had a better chance of ever getting to implement them.

This post was originally published at on 2014-10-08T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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