In a political career that began in 1985, Olivia Chow has been one of Canada’s most effective and well known public figures, serving in municipal politics in Toronto and on the national stage as a Canadian Member of Parliament. She was voted Best City Councilor seven times by readers of NOW magazine and Best MP in 2010, while readers of the Toronto Sun voted her Top Torontonian in 2012 and Canadian Immigrant magazine named her as one of the top 25 immigrants. Olivia is also the best selling author of “Olivia Chow: My Journey”, published in 2014.
Recently, Olivia Chow joined Ryerson University as a Distinguished Visiting Professor. Her work will focus on community engagement and democratic participation.
Olivia was born in Hong Kong and moved to Toronto with her parents when she was thirteen. She studied philosophy and art at university and has worked as a college professor, an ESL teacher, counselor for new immigrants and a sculptor.
As a young woman she became an activist, fighting for the rights of refugees and immigrants. For over 20 years, she was at the forefront of the ultimately successful campaign to achieve a national apology and redress for the discriminatory “Chinese Head Tax”
Olivia won her first election in 1985 and served on the Toronto Board of Education for six years.
In 1991, Olivia became the first Asian-born woman elected as a Metro Toronto Councilor. 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), among other senior responsibilities.
Olivia gained national recognition for her innovative approaches to programs for children and youth as Toronto’s first Children and Youth Advocate. In this capacity, she enhanced the far-reaching child nutrition programs, free dental care for children living in poverty, expanded pre- and post-natal services, and an award winning approach to delivering Early Learning and Child Care (First Duty).
First elected to Parliament in 2006, Olivia won re-election twice. In Parliament, her Early Learning and Child Care Bill laid the legislative foundation for a universal, high quality, affordable and non-profit national childcare program. She also pushed for faster family reunification and giving a chance for immigrants to succeed through recognition of foreign credentials and employment initiatives.
Olivia was the Official Opposition Transport and Infrastructure Critic. Her bill on a National Public Transit Strategy was widely celebrated by mayors and municipalities from coast to coast to coast.
Throughout her career, Olivia has been at the forefront, working for progress for all. She has reached across party lines and travelled across the country, forging alliances with municipal and provincial leaders, business and advocacy groups.
Outside the political sphere, Olivia is known as a tireless spokesperson, fundraiser and champion of numerous charities such as the Canadian Cancer Society and related charities, Centre for Victims of Torture, Asian Community AIDS Service and Culture Link.
Olivia married Jack Layton in 1988, and together they forged one of Canada’s most remarkable political partnerships, sharing a passion for life and a commitment to change. Jack became leader of the New Democratic Party and Canada’s Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, before he died of cancer in 2011. Since his passing, Olivia has continued the quest to make Toronto a better city and Canada a better country for all.