If you are the MP for Trinity-Spadina and have loftier political ambitions, there are really only three ways to go.
You can hang in, bet your party will form the next government and ascend to cabinet.
You can bide your time until a provincial leader's job come opens and aim for the premier's chair.
Or if you are Olivia Chow, you can run for mayor of Toronto.
That's why Chow's autobiography, My Journey, has to be viewed as a two-headed literary effort - it is her reintroduction to Toronto voters and a blueprint for how she would run a campaign and how she would govern should she win the job.
She has been endlessly coy in her comments about her future, but is expected to officially launch her campaign sometime in March. She may insist that this book has nothing to do with an imminent campaign, but it really can't be read any other way.
To Torontonians, Chow is many things, but on Parliament Hill she is known as a tireless worker, a mentor to a young caucus, but not an MP who draws the spotlight.
She is one of the better liked of those who punch the clock at the Centre Block, endlessly approachable, personable and well respected, both within and without her party.
In Toronto, she is a media darling.
But Chow is a politician, a woman who knows how to create attention for a cause, how to promote herself and the issue of the day, and this tome is a highly political manifesto in keeping with those skills.
She has artfully mixed some gritty honesty about her early life with a laundry list of her accomplishments, endless reminders of the victories and character of her late husband Jack Layton (who failed in his own mayoral bid more than two decades ago) and a little too much in the way of over-the-top testimonials from friends and admirers.
But Chow does have an impressive list of accomplishments over the years and if you're publishing an autobiography with the unspoken intent of convincing people you should be the mayor, this is probably not the time to draw on a well of modesty and self-deprecation.
But if - when - she makes the jump, she will leap into a political cauldron like she has not seen before, not in her battles in her riding with Liberal Tony Ianno, her informal adviser role to Layton in the coalition effort or her battles with the Toronto police union boss Craig Bromell.
Would she be tough enough for what will be a rough political neighbourhood?
A woman who tried to intervene as her father beat her mother, dealt with her father's tragic mental decline, escaped abusive boyfriends, talked people out of suicide as a counsellor, and endured the loss of the love of her life, in public and with immense grace, has already built her cred on that count.
She would campaign and govern with children as her first priority, and she laments the level of child poverty in the city.
She argues there is a gender bias in the funding of programs, with money made available for the overwhelmingly male domains of police, fire and military protection, but not for the overwhelmingly female domains of early child care and elder care.
"Programs that focus only the poor will always be vulnerable to the axe,” Chow writes. But programs that serve the majority will withstand "future political turmoil and elimination.”
Without naming Rob Ford, she warns, "do not … be fooled by hand-over-heart promises to lower taxes - you may well find that the trickster's other hand is reaching surreptitiously into your back pocket,” she writes.
Loud claims about tax cuts as user fees jump are the "height of hypocrisy,” she says.
The book is larded with references to voter "engagement" and "empowerment" and "participatory democracy.”
Philosophy will take a back seat to retail politics in her expected campaign, but anyone who has watched Chow work a room knows that she has no difficulty drawing people into her orbit.
Whether she can take that beyond her progressive base remains to be seen.
Something you certainly won't hear from the incumbent is Chow's memories of late-night discussions over gin and tonic with Layton: "I liked Kierkegaard and his thinking on faith, as did Jack, but he was drawn more to Hegel and his dialectical approach to politics.''
Thankfully, Toronto voters will not have to choose between Kierkegaard and Hegel, but they may well be asked to choose between Chow and Ford.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column is distributed through Torstar Syndication Services. email@example.com Twitter:@nutgraf1