September 17, 2018

Rally For Toronto Speech

My name is Jennifer Keesmaat, and I’m running to be your mayor.

Look around you in this room. You know what I see? I see fellow citizens of Toronto united in a cause. I see people who believe it’s time for a change at city hall.

It’s time for an end to dithering and delay as a plan for government. It’s time to stop telling ourselves we can’t do things. It’s time for new people, new ideas, and new leadership at City Hall.

I’ve been campaigning hard for over a month now. I’ve spoken to hundreds of Torontonians in Etobicoke, and in Scarborough, and in North York, and everywhere in between. And if there is one thing I’m hearin, from Six Points to Woburn, and from Leslieville to Yorkdale, it’s that a growing, hopeful, optimistic, forward-looking majority of Torontonians are quietly coming to agree that it’s time for change in Toronto.

So tonight let’s talk about the kind of change people are telling me they’re looking for in this city. When people in Toronto say that things are not quite right in this city of ours and that there are some important things that need to change, what are they talking about?

First and foremost, people are saying that it is getting harder and harder to make ends meet. And for most people, that conversation starts with housing.

Because housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable for the average Toronto family. John Tory and his friends at City Hall made sure the luckiest and best off among us got looked after. Those who need help the least always seem to be the first in line for help when people like Doug Ford and John Tory are in power, don’t you find?

And that is certainly true when it comes to housing in Toronto.

Eighty percent of the apartments built in this city in the last four years were high-end luxury apartments. Eighty percent. Obviously that can’t go on. It is obvious to every working and middle class family in this city that we can’t let housing prices continue keep going up through the roof.

Our children – my children and your children – won’t be able to live here.  It is obvious that effective action is required – obvious to everyone – except to John Tory, who thinks that my plan to build more housing is “too ambitious.”

Well, on this issue as on many issues, dithering and delay and timidity isn’t good enough anymore.

Delaying solutions for the affordability of housing in Toronto isn’t good enough. And so a growing majority of Torontonians are saying that this needs to be addressed – now. A growing majority are saying that we need change. A new approach, new energy, and new ideas – on the single biggest issue facing most families in our city, which is being able to afford your own home.

But here’s the good news: we can address this issue. We can make ordinary working and middle class families the priority, instead of only building for the high-end luxury market. Because we do already have the city-owned land, the legislative and zoning power, and the city builders, so we can steer instead towards a housing market that is about serving the needs of everyone in this city.

I’ve laid out a practical, realistic plan to build 100,000 new apartments that ordinary families can afford over the next ten years. This plan will help stabilize and reduce rents, take some of the pressure off existing housing, and it will help create a housing market that ordinary and middle class families can afford.  

You know what we need to get there? We need leadership at City Hall that cares, and we need leadership at City Hall that leads. We don’t have that now – especially on this critical issue. That’s why I’m running to be mayor of Toronto.

Here’s another thing people are telling me. They’re telling me that they’re sick and tired of politicians coming up with transit plans where the main goal is to buy votes rather than to deliver great transit. They’re telling me that they hope somebody, sometime soon, gets us back on track with our transit system.

That somebody won’t be John Tory, and it won’t be his SmartTrack Plan.

I worked closely for three years with John Tory in my role as Chief Planner. He knows, like I know, that his SmartTrack plan was designed on the back of a napkin. He knows that it is a political mirage that was just about getting him elected. He knows that it will never be built as he promised it to you.

The 53 kilometers of dedicated new track he promised is now zero new track. The plans for the special trains he promised have been dropped and they will never be bought. He promised 22 stations that wouldn’t cost Toronto taxpayers one dime because they would be paid for by special levies on developers.

And what’s left of that promise?

At most six stations that will be added to the GO system – at a cost of at least $1.4 billion to Toronto taxpayers, on a system that is otherwise all paid for by the provincial government.

How is that for “respect for taxpayers?” How is that for “running the city like a business?”

The good news is this: it’s not going to be hard to do better than that.

Almost any plan realistically on offer will be better than the four years we just wasted deciding that SmartTrack won’t be built. But let’s stop settling for not-as-bad here.

We can have a great transit system, that actually does its job well. We can go from laggards to leaders – just like we used to be.

I’ve outlined a transit network plan that shows how we can make new and existing subways, streetcars, LRTs, and express buses work together in an integrated, effective, and affordable system that serves every neighborhood in this city. We can reduce transit crowding, and reduce your commute times.

You know what we need to get there?

We need leadership at City Hall that cares, and we need leadership at City Hall that leads. We don’t have that now, which is why I’m running to be mayor of Toronto.

Here’s one more thing Torontonians tell me they’re hopeful and optimistic about. They’re hopeful that this city can find a way to make our streets safe. Safe from tragedies next to our schools and playgrounds and in our intersections. Safe from random shootings and senseless violence.

I spelled out a detailed Vision Zero road safety plan a few days ago. A real commitment to Vision Zero isn’t about four years of dithering and inaction, and then a photo-op next to a “community safety zone” sign. A real commitment to Vision Zero is about a city where not a single child or senior – not a single person – is run over and killed anywhere in our city.

The good news is that it is possible to make better decisions about our roads and intersections and school zones and playgrounds. What we can do is design streets and intersections that are BUILT to be safe – it’s not rocket science. All it takes is the leadership and vision to it.

And then, there is the question of gun violence.

Let’s say it loud and clear: we don’t have to settle for the thousand shootings that have happened in the past four years, either.

This morning, I spelled out a detailed plan to address gun violence, policing, and community engagement to ensure every neighbourhood in this city is safe.

The good news is we really can address these issues. And it starts here: there is no reason for anyone to have a handgun or an assault rifle in Toronto, and nobody should.

We need to ban weapons of war and crime in Toronto.

John Tory and people like John Tory dismiss this as an “empty gesture” – as he did in the last election. But he couldn’t be more wrong. When it comes to our safety, we can’t just wait for a crisis to hit before we take action.

As your mayor, I will be focused every single day on ensuring we all feel safer in every corner of our city.

As we will prove here in Toronto, with new people and new leadership and a new approach to actually building our city at city hall, there is so much that can be done.

Let me now say a few words about the disgraceful events of the past week. “Disgraceful” is the right word.

Premier Ford, Minister Mulroney, the provincial Cabinet, the government caucus, and John Tory’s closest friends and allies on City Council, the councillors who endorsed the gutting of Toronto City Council through the use of the notwithstanding clause, have disgraced themselves.

It is a disgrace to suspend the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in order to pursue one man’s old grudges from his single term as a city councillor.

This weekend, John Tory – once again talking out of both sides of his mouth on a critical issue – called on the provincial government to just get on with it, to hurry up and get it done and get this bill passed.

That’s not good enough for a Mayor of Toronto.

Former Ontario Premier Bill Davis – also once the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party – spoke with a sense of clarity and conviction on this issue that John Tory could not muster. All of us must speak out clearly – without equivocating or taking both sides of the issue.

If there is any good news here, it is this: a City of Toronto that has stronger leadership at the top CAN defy this attack on our democracy, and reconnect our city’s decision-making to its citizens.

We can refuse this attempt at breaking the link between the city and its citizens – through expanded local community councils, and participatory budgeting.

As your mayor, that’s exactly what we’ll do.

We’ll stop dithering and delaying and talking out of both sides of our mouths. We’ll stand up for our city. And we’ll defeat these acts by building a stronger, more democratic, and more locally-accountable city.

That’s what Toronto is all about.

This campaign has finally really begun. John Tory opened his election office the other day; he has plenty of time in his schedule to do election events – and I’m sure he therefore has plenty of time to now start attending debates, so that we can put these issues squarely before the people of Toronto.

We can hold John Tory accountable for his real record, and we can spread a wonderfully hopeful and optimistic message about this city of ours.

We can build a city where people can afford to live.

We can have good public transit that cuts commute times.

And our streets can be safe, clean, and green.

We can do these things. Don’t let the voices of the status quo tell you we can’t. But I need your help. I need your energy, your ideas, and your commitment to change.

And you up for this fight? Will you be part of this change? Then let’s do it together.

Change is coming to city hall.