There are a few things most Canadians know about Olivia Chow - she is an immigrant, politician, and half of one of Parliament’s biggest power couples. But there is so much more to the woman we see in the media. We know she is a fighter for justice and for many people she is one of the more relatable politicians. But many may wonder what has driven her passion for politics and commitment to making her country a better place. Now she is sharing that story.
My Journey, by Olivia Chow, is a candid look at her life in politics and the events and issues that have shaped who she is today. From her early childhood in Hong Kong to her teenage years in Toronto, she honestly shares the frustrations and hardships her family faced and the difficulties and violence that marked this time period. She recounts how her life changed when she settled into self-discipline and excelled in school, and how her desire for social change led to her political career.
As a school trustee first, then a Toronto City Councillor (first Asian woman to hold the role) and on to Canadian Parliament, Olivia Chow has always taken a passionate, grassroots approach to helping others, especially children. I was amazed to learn how many successful programs we have in Toronto that were put in place by Olivia’s work.
Here is the thing about a book written by a politician - the people who agree with their politics are going to love it and the people who disagree with their politics are going to hate it. Some people will read it as an honest sharing of their story, some people will see an agenda behind it. As someone who holds political views that aren’t represented by any one party in the political arena today, even I am guilty of doing all of the above. So I will state that I am a great admirer of Olivia Chow and that will probably colour my feelings about the book.
Olivia is an inspiring woman. I found it refreshing to read about a person whose reasons for getting into politics hasn’t changed, even decades later. She started from the humble roots many of us experience but not many in power have. She doesn’t come across as a career politician but rather someone who is committed to a cause and knows she can affect change through politics.
The first half of this book gives great insight into who Olivia is and what shaped her commitment to social justice. The second half reads like a resume. Chow has spurred a lot of change and much of the book recounts what it was and the change that went into it. Unfortunately, I found that it felt like it was dividing the book into sections, personal and work, rather than balancing the two the whole way through.
And that’s where a big criticism of the book lies - that once you enter her political journey, it all becomes a little too bland or like one big pat on the back. I say, if you’re not a staunch opposer of her, give it a little leeway. And if you don’t agree with her, keep an open mind. At the end of the day there are a issues that we are all (or should all be) committed to and though we may have different ways of handling them, we can learn from each other.