For over thirty years, Olivia Chow has been an effective and well-known public figure, serving in Toronto’s municipal politics and on the national stage as a Canadian Member of Parliament. She was voted Best City Councillor seven times by readers of NOW magazine and Best MP in 2010. Readers of the Toronto Sun voted her Top Torontonian in 2012 and Canadian Immigrant magazine named her as one of Canada’s Top 25 Immigrants.
Olivia also wrote the best selling memoir My Journey, published in 2014.
In 2015, Olivia Chow joined Ryerson University as a Distinguished Visiting Professor. Her work focuses on community engagement and leadership development.
As a founder of the Institute for Change Leaders, Olivia and her team of 30+ trainers have taught community and political organizing to thousands of people since March of 2015. The Institute for Change Leaders’ mission is to ensure organizers are continually developing the skills they need to transform the resources they have into the change they want. The Institute does this by teaching organizing strategies and providing a platform for the growth of a network of organizers.
Olivia’s career has been all about creating lasting change. Olivia was born in Hong Kong and moved to Toronto with her parents when she was thirteen. She studied Philosophy and Fine Art at university, and has worked as a college professor, an ESL teacher, a counsellor for new immigrants, and a sculptor.
She became an activist as a young woman, 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 Councillor. 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 and more family reunification, amnesty for those without status, 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 Centre for Victims of Torture, Asian Community AIDS Service, Culture Link and organizations helping those with cancer.
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.
Distinguished Visiting Professor