Fresh off an election, Olivia Chow is gathering her team and making plans at City Hall.
Toronto’s newly elected mayor told reporters Thursday that she has hired a chief of staff, has been deep in meetings for the past few days and has three immediate priorities as she transitions into office.
There will be no blue ribbon panels and reports. Instead, there will be consultations with experts and then movement, she said.
“I’ve learned a lot and I’m certainly very ready to act,” Chow said.
The mayor-elect announced that she has hired her campaign manager, Michal Hay, a veteran of the city council, as chief of staff. It’s the young term’s first major personnel decision of hers and probably her most important, since he’s taking over from him.
Chow’s team said it will meet with front-line experts, community leaders and the civil service to seek solutions to the city’s “most pressing problems” in the coming days. Those meetings will focus on affordable housing and economic opportunity, community crisis response, and supportive housing and wraparound services.
Chow calls for committee to meet in August
He also announced that he has asked the city’s executive committee to meet in August, and then the city council to meet in early September, to discuss Toronto’s long-term fiscal outlook. With a billion-dollar budget gap, Chow said he wants to get to work addressing that problem.
“I know, traditionally, the council here takes a break in August,” he said. “I don’t intend to have a vacation. I intend to work through the summer so that we can address some of the challenges and issues that we face.”
Experts who closely follow the city council say this transition period will be different from previous changes at Toronto’s main office. Former city councilor John Filion worked with Chow for a decade, sitting two seats from her in the council chambers. He said he can already see signs of the councilwoman he met in her first days in this new job.
“I thought she was brilliant behind the scenes,” he said. “She was one of the few councilors who didn’t seek much credit. She just went quietly and let someone else get the glory.”
He said that Chow has already gotten going and needs to, out of necessity.
“You usually have a lot of time to prepare to take office as the new mayor,” he said. “This is going to be a great race.”
Former Mayor John Tory’s stunning resignation in February launched the by-election, which created a condensed timetable for the winner to take office. Chow said this week that he will be sworn in on July 12, cutting the usual transition period by weeks.
“She is doing all the right things, that she is meeting with all the councillors, because you need to build the coalition so that you can run with the ball from day one,” he said. “And she’s also meeting with provincial and federal leaders, because she’s going to need new sources of funding to get anything done.”
Increasingly formalized mayoral transitions, says expert
York University public policy professor Zac Spicer said that given that timeline, it’s likely that people on Chow’s team have been preparing for the possibility of transition for weeks. He suspects that other campaign teams were doing the same in case they won the election.
“The transition process doesn’t have some kind of set rhythm and flow,” he said. “But over time, at the local level, it has become more and more formalized to look more like the transition of a prime minister or prime minister.”
Spicer, who has studied mayoral transitions, said city department heads will send briefing papers to Chow’s team to bring them and the mayor-elect up to speed.
“The reason why the transition process has become more and more complex and much more formalized is that the mayor’s office wants to monitor all those projects and find out what’s going on,” he said. “The only thing the mayor doesn’t want right now are surprises.”
Strategist and consultant Kim Wright said she doesn’t expect Chow to step in and start tearing apart the initiatives put in place by his predecessor. She will listen to all of the former mayor’s allies on the council and try to find common ground, she said.
“Everyone wants to go in and trash the last person’s work, it’s not their style,” he said. “There’s been some really good work done. So I hope Olivia listens to that, she figures out what makes sense to Torontonians and moves on.”
Wright, who was an adviser to former Ontario NDP leader Howard Hampton, said she hopes Chow’s transition to the job will set the tone for his leadership on city council. It will focus on listening and collaboration, she said.
“He’ll have a team around him, but his core belief is how do we engage people where they are and get them where they need to be.”