Olivia Chow is the 66th Mayor of Toronto, the first person of Asian descent to serve as Mayor, and the first woman since the six municipalities of Metro Toronto were amalgamated into one in 1998.
Born in Hong Kong in 1957, Mayor Olivia Chow immigrated to Toronto with her parents at the age of 13, where they moved to an apartment in the St. James Town neighbourhood. Her parents faced the challenges of so many immigrants who have come here to build a new life for their children and make an impact on our city. When Olivia’s father failed to find work in his field and suffered a mental breakdown, her mother worked as a hotel maid to support the family. Through turbulent times at home, Olivia studied hard, graduated from Jarvis Collegiate and then studied Religion and Philosophy at the University of Toronto before studying fine art at OCAD and at the University of Guelph where she completed an Honours BA.
After university, Olivia worked as a sculptor, ESL teacher and a counsellor for new immigrants. She was moved by the plight of the Vietnamese “Boat People” – refugees who had fled from their war-torn country in search of a better life in Canada. That was the starting point of a lifetime of activism and community organizing.
Pursuing her newfound passion for public service, Olivia was first elected as a TDSB trustee in 1985, where she served for six years. In 1991, Olivia became the first Asian-born woman elected as a Metro Toronto Councillor, where she created lasting programs that continue to help hundreds of thousands of families in Toronto each year. These include programs such as free dental care for children in poverty and the school breakfast and lunch program that helps kids focus on their teachers, not their hunger. She was re-elected to city council five times, serving with distinction for 14 years. While at City Hall, she served as Chair of the Community Services Committee and Vice Chair of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) as well as served on the budget committee for a decade.
While still a school trustee, Olivia married then City Councillor Jack Layton in 1988, and they forged one of Canada’s most remarkable political partnerships. For over two decades, they worked together to achieve social justice in Toronto and then on the national stage where Jack served in Parliament as an MP, Leader of the NDP and ultimately Leader of the Official Opposition before his untimely death from cancer in 2011.
In 2006, Olivia was elected as the Member of Parliament for Trinity—Spadina and was reelected twice, serving until 2014. While an opposition MP, she introduced an Early Learning and Child Care bill which laid the legislative foundation for a universal, high quality, affordable and non-profit national childcare program. Her bill on a National Public Transit Strategy was widely celebrated by mayors and municipalities from coast to coast.
After leaving federal politics, Olivia wrote “My Journey”, a book of memoirs chronicling her inspiring life story. In 2015, she joined Toronto Metropolitan University as a Distinguished Visiting Professor where her work focused on community engagement and leadership development. In 2016, she founded the Institute for Change Leaders, providing leadership training and community organizing skills that grass roots activists and organizers need to achieve social change, empowering thousands of people.
And then in 2023, Olivia Chow opened a new chapter in her extraordinary life story when she ran for and won election as Mayor of Toronto, pledging to build a more affordable, safe and caring city where everyone belongs.
Throughout her career, Olivia has been driven by the belief that we are always stronger together.