Olivia Chow Launches Campaign in Packed Church




Olivia Chow Launches Campaign in Packed Church

Without outlining specific policies, Chow tells her supporters that it's time for a new mayor, and she's up for the job.

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Campaign launches are a time to preach to the converted. You gather your core supporters in a room and energize them—make them feel as if they’re going to make the city better, one knocked door at a time. And so it was that Olivia Chow kicked off her campaign in an overflowing St. James Town church on Thursday morning, with eager supporters sporting Olivia for Mayor buttons and greeting other familiar faces. There were NDP activists, union members, and a smattering of Liberals, too. When Chow entered the church, a roar of applause filled the room, and the crowd parted to allow her a clear path to the podium.

After three years of Rob Ford and 18 months of whispers about whether Chow would run, the audience was ready to hang on to every word. They cheered in all the right places, such as when she said she was running for mayor, or that people need jobs, or better transit—or that the city needs to consider and leave a better future for its children. They cheered for all these lines, because they have at least one thing in common with the members of Ford Nation: when it comes to their candidate, they’re true believers.

There was the red meat for the crowd, with Chow saying that the mayor is no role model and that Toronto needs a new mayor now. The crowd nodded earnestly as Chow spoke, taking in every word. For three years, there had been more than enough Ford moments—the crack scandal, the conflict-of-interest fiasco, and marathon meetings during which people pleaded for their City services. There was a sense these supporters were ready for someone who understood and represented them to speak on their behalf.

As Chow came to the rising notes at the end of the speech, her voice rose as well. She spoke about hope and change and optimism and all of those lofty ideals you aim for when you’re trying to lead a city out of a civic quagmire, and her supporters appeared ready to take the leap with her.

It was a good launch for the former Trinity-Spadina MP. Chow, who has a reputation among politicos for being a poor speaker, delivered a strong speech from the podium, and everything went according to the script. To be sure, that script was filled with platitudes: she covered more policy issues—such as her support for the Scarborough LRT plan—during Newstalk 1010 and 680 News appearances in the morning than she did during the launch.

In a media availability after her speech, Chow was less in control. She appeared frazzled by a frenzy of media questions, some important (a question on TCHC from NOW magazine) to the absurd (a question on illegal massage parlors from Sun News). With the easy part over, Chow’s camp will have to move on to a much more difficult challenge—convincing skeptical voters that she’s the right person to lead Toronto to the promised land, even if that place is only a vague notion at this time. But that’s what a campaign launch asks of the people paying attention—to have a little faith.