Are you guys excited for change in Toronto?
I’m excited, too.
I do confess I was planning a slightly different summer.
Just a few weeks ago, Tom and I were planning on enjoying a nice summer in the city with our kids, Alexandra and Luis.
We’re moving Alex into residence at Western on Saturday to start her first year in university and I’ve been trying to scoop up every last minute I can get with her this summer before she moves away.
So, change was in the air for us…but then it became clear in recent weeks, that what we need, and you need, and what Toronto needs, is a big change at City Hall. Toronto needs a new mayor!
My name is Jennifer Keesmaat, and I’m running to be your next Mayor of the City of Toronto.
Friends, for most of my adult life, I’ve been busy building and running businesses -- successful ones.
When I was just 31, my business partners and I founded an urban planning company called Office for Urbanism, which would later become what is now known as Dialog, a flourishing national practice that today employs 600 people in four offices across Canada.
And that work meant I got to travel all over the country – I led projects from Halifax to Vancouver, from Regina to Fort McMurray, and in many other places in between.
And what we found was that all of our best projects were the ones where we had the opportunity to go directly in to local communities and talk with as many people as possible about what they loved about their neighbourhoods and what would make their lives better.
We didn’t work with local communities because we were obligated to, we worked with local communities because it resulted in better neighbourhoods.
So, that’s what I thought my life was going to be about — running a successful business in the private sector.
But six years ago I was offered a wonderful new opportunity that brought me right into the heart of the public sphere — to serve the people of Toronto as Chief Planner.
I truly loved working with my Planning team and with the people in the diverse neighbourhoods of this great city.
I hosted hundreds of community consultations in all corners of the city, and I learned something that made my heart sing.
I learned that Torontonians love their city and have a tremendous amount to contribute to its future.
We all love this city.
We worked directly with people in the neighbourhoods who actually use the libraries and the splash pads and the community centres and live in the housing that my department planned.
We talked with the people who make our city what it is – the small business owners, the community organizers, the teachers, the nurses, the firefighters – they’re the people who know the DNA of their neighbourhood, of their community, of their city.
Because, see, the best places are the places that draw on the energy and the passion of the people who live there.
I fundamentally believe that.
From the first day I started in this wonderful, exciting world of city building, I took my cues from Jane Jacobs.
And one of the things that Jane taught me is that “local” really matters.
Local people, local streets, local neighbourhoods where people are a part of the sidewalk ballet.
Local is always better.
And that’s why what happened four weeks ago was so startling to me.
When, out of nowhere – and after zero consultation with the public – the province swooped in and flipped our local politics on its head.
Right then, it became clear to me that it will be critical in the months and years ahead that people in this city have a real leader.
Someone who will be willing to stand up and fight for Toronto’s best interests.
Which brings me to why I’ve concluded that John Tory should not be Mayor of Toronto.
Friends, I respect people like John Tory who have spent their lives running for office at various levels of Government, and I understand the politics of how he was elected Mayor last election.
To his credit, Mr. Tory ended a profoundly chaotic era for our city.
Toronto is no longer the butt of jokes on late-night talk shows all around the world.
But I just don’t think that’s good enough anymore — and I don’t think the kind of government we’ve been getting under John Tory is good enough either.
Toronto is one of the world’s great cities.
We have a bustling, high-energy, increasingly high-tech economy.
We’re the economic engine of this country; its financial capital; its largest city.
We’re Canada’s centre for the arts and film and performance and music.
There’s no dithering, no mediocrity, no low energy, and no lack of bold ideas there.
But there is at City Hall, because John Tory’s in the Mayor’s chair.
John Tory is just not very good at his job – I know because I worked for him.
I simply don’t agree with his approach to leadership – I believe leaders need to have vision and need to feel comfortable making bold decisions, and that’s just not John.
I believe Toronto should be a leader, not a timid follower.
The Mayoralty of Toronto is not a symbolic and powerless position, as John Tory would like to have you believe.
It is a leadership position, and the Mayor has the opportunity to lead the Council and lead the city administration to get exciting and critically important things done.
Getting things done is what has been lacking for the past four years.
And that’s what has to change!
Let me give you an example.
Let’s take the heart of John Tory’s campaign last election, the so-called “SmartTrack” proposal.
An idea developed on the back of a napkin.
What did he promise? He promised 12 stations and 53 kilometres of new track paid for through an alternative financing system.
What has that been whittled down to now? At most 6 stations, no new track, regular old GO Trains, and a 1.4 billion-dollar bill to Toronto taxpayers.
SmartTrack was nothing more than a mirage that was designed to get him elected.
And it has caused Toronto to spin its wheels on transit for four more years.
I don’t want our city to continue spinning its wheels any longer, because I don’t think our city can afford it.
Because the problems our city faces are real and profound, and more of the status quo isn’t going to solve them.
It’s time for bold ideas and real leadership.
So let’s talk about some bold ideas.
I think back to this past winter, when my daughter, Alexandra, started coaching sports.
We were sitting around the dinner table as a family one night when she got home, and it was like she found her soul.
She’s this ambitious, passionate, energetic kid, and she said to me, “I just love teaching kids. I’m so happy, Mum. Like, I get to bed on time because I’m excited to get up and be with the kids all day long.
And when I’m teaching those kids, I’m just happy -- I don’t feel like I should be doing anything else.”
And, so, I said to her, “Alex, that’s wonderful, maybe you want to be a teacher -- maybe you’ve found your passion.”
And she looked at me, and said “well I don’t know if I can be a teacher, Mum, because I don’t know if I could afford to live in Toronto.”
And that broke me a little.
That my kid was thinking that she can’t follow her dreams and stay in this city.
Because this city is too expensive for her to be a teacher.
There are bold, strong, practical steps we can take to increase — dramatically increase — the number of reasonably-priced homes that a middle-class family living in Toronto could actually afford to rent.
That’s why my very first policy announcement was a plan to build 100,000 new, high-quality, purpose-built rental homes that people can afford.
It’s a bold but realistic solution.
For example, the City can put the land it already owns to work — and make agreements with city builders to get housing built.
Where we have single-storey subway stations and mostly empty parking lots, we could have housing that people can afford.
We already have the tools available to us to make this happen; what’s missing is the leadership and the creativity in the Mayor’s office to come up with this kind of innovative solution.
Similarly, we need to stop spinning our wheels on transit.
Over the next twenty years, about a million new people are going to move to Toronto.
There’s no room to build more roads.
Congestion is terrible now – imagine what your commute is going to be like if we try to cram a million more people onto the DVP and the 401 and the Steeles bus at rush hour every day.
In this city, lots of people drive, lots of people take transit, lots of people walk, and lots of people bike – many people do some or all of those things in a single day – and that’s going to continue to be the case.
We need to focus on giving people more choice.
What we need is the vision to pursue solutions that acknowledge how people actually get around.
In the alternate, we need to stop dithering and wasting our time on symbolic proposals made by politicians to buy votes.
If we want to build a city that works for everyone, we need to stop talking about one transit line in isolation from all the others.
I think we should be talking about how everyone in the city needs access to excellent transit.
I think we should be talking about how we’re building our city in an inclusive way instead of a divisive way, and we need to get shovels in the ground on new projects, now.
John Tory has been Mayor for four years and, in that time, we’ve heard him talk a big game about transit.
But how many new transit projects have begun construction under his watch?
John Tory likes to claim that the city is making progress on transit, but the projects he points to as proof were all started by his predecessors!
What does the TTC look like in reality after four years of John Tory? Fares have gone up and ridership has flatlined.
It’s time for bold ideas! It’s time to do better!
Third, this city needs to get with the times and tackle the problem of a changing climate.
Last year, when given the choice of taking action on the issue or continuing to dither, what did John Tory do?
He voted down the plan to deal with Toronto’s massive stormwater problem, a problem that has flooded people’s basements and brought the city to a standstill twice in the last few weeks alone.
We all saw the astonishing photos and videos -- it was chaos.
Cars completely submerged – even a brand new streetcar completely enveloped by the stormwater, with sewage spewing down the aisle.
Subway riders wading through knee-deep water to get to their train, only to find that service had been suspended.
That’s not good enough. It time for a mayor willing to act on these issues!
And finally, this city needs to be safer.
Our children need to be able to walk to school safely. Our seniors need to be able to cross the street safely.
People need to feel safe at night in every neighbourhood in the city.
There’s a good deal that needs to be done to make our city safer.
We need to ban handguns and assault rifles in our city.
We need a renewed and re-invigorated partnership with the police and with grassroots community organizations.
We need programs that create more opportunities for vulnerable youth, like community benefit agreements that ensure local jobs are part of every major infrastructure project.
And too many pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists are dying on our streets.
I think back to a few months ago, when a woman was killed on her bike at Bloor and St. George.
And immediately I thought about Luis, who is always on his bike.
And I picked up my phone and I called my husband, Tom.
And I said “put Luis’ bike away.”
Because I was scared.
And it changed me, that moment, because I suddenly realized, “my kids can’t have the childhood I had because the city is now a more dangerous place.”
And it’s by design -- it’s a series of choices that got us here.
And we can make different choices -- those things do not have to happen by default.
But those changes require leadership.
The time for dithering and delay is over.
We need real leadership and real solutions to the real problems facing our city.
The buck stops in the Mayor’s office and we can’t afford to wait four more years.
We need to make our city more affordable so that our kids can pursue their dreams without worrying about whether they’ll have to move away.
We need to take the politics out of transit planning, build more of it, improve existing service, and provide better options for people to get around in every corner of the city, so that our commutes are shorter and our roads less crowded.
We need people to feel safe in every neighbourhood in the city.
I think these are the things we need to solve together as a city right now, and what I’ve heard in my first four weeks in politics is that a whole lot of people are feeling the same thing.
I love Toronto because, for so long, it has been a beautiful, cool, vibrant, diverse place to live.
Many years ago, I met a boy -- an Etobicoke boy, it turns out. And that boy had a city. And that city was Toronto.
And he insisted that we live here. And, having grown up in Hamilton, I wasn’t too sure about moving to the big city.
But when we got here, it took me about 30 seconds to get it — to get the magic of this place.
A forward-looking city that is full of energy and passion and creativity and diversity — just like the people who live in it.
We can’t let that magical combination slip away.
Which is why I’m asking for your support.
We’re up against an ingrained and powerful political machine that wants to maintain the status quo at all costs.
Come knock doors with me. Come join our volunteers and make some phone calls. Spread our message to your friends and neighbours and online. Head to our website and chip in whatever you can, even if it’s a toonie.
Join me in fighting for a new vision to build a better Toronto that works for everyone.
My name is Jennifer Keesmaat, and I’m running to be your mayor.