Former Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat to run for mayor

Move comes after Premier Ford announces intention to cut size of city council

Former Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat to run for mayor

Former chief planner of Toronto Jennifer Keesmaat has joined the race to replace incumbent Mayor John Tory.

Keesmaat confirmed to the Toronto Star on Friday that she was running as she joined a line of people queued up to register for council elections at city hall.

“There are times that we need to stand up for our city,” Keesmaat told reporters after registering. “I am running for mayor because I believe we need bold ideas in this city. We need bold leadership.”

“Bold ideas can make our city even more livable.”

The move comes shortly after Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that he will be slashing the size of city council from 47 to 25 seats. The change — if the requisite legislation passes at Queen’s Park next week — is intended to reflect federal and provincial riding boundaries.

Tory is calling for a referendum to be held before the October 22 election to ask if voters want to cut the size of council. The deadline for a referendum question to be put on this year’s ballot has already passed, according to provincial rules.

In the aftermath of Ford’s decision and Tory’s statement, Keesmaat tweeted, “The public was asked. The city ran an extensive public consultation process before realigning Ward boundaries – a process that was challenged and upheld by the courts. Ignoring this outcome is inherently anti-democratic.”

She also publicly mused about Toronto seceding from the rest of the province on social media, tweeting, “Why should a city of 2.8 million not have self governance?”

Keesmaat is the first major challenger to Tory in the race, after Blayne Lastman, the son of former mayor Mel Lastman, decided not to run earlier this week.

Keesmaat resigned her post as chief planner in August 2017 because of disagreements with Tory. Since then, she joined the University of Toronto for part of the academic year as a graduate lecturer in the geography department.

Since March 2018, she has also served as the chief executive officer of the Creative Housing Society, an independent non-profit group focusing on affordable housing projects.

Cole city

A potential Desmond Cole mayoral bid spells promise for a progressive Toronto

Cole city

There is more to Desmond Cole than meets the eye. Witness him in person and his humility is palpable — we recall how gracefully he moderated Azeezah Kanji’s 2016 Hart House Hancock Lecture, or how open he was to conversation when we, a couple of strangers, encountered him on the street earlier this year. When the public eye puts pressure on him, however, he does not prioritize respectability or diplomacy. He unleashes an incisive logic that is difficult to swallow and impossible to ignore.

Freshly named ‘Best Activist’ in Now Magazine, Cole specializes in doggedly raising uncomfortable truths to those in power. Over the past two years, we’ve observed Cole confront such truths in many forms: as columnist, radio host, public speaker, and critic. And now, we’re ready to see him do so as mayor.

Last month, Newstalk 1010 released a poll which asked Torontonians whom they would consider to vote for as mayor — and Cole’s name was included without his prior knowledge. Of more than 800 Torontonians polled, 30 per cent indicated they would give Cole “a great deal” or “some” consideration. Later, on Facebook, Cole announced he was considering running against current mayor John Tory in the 2018 municipal election.

In a sense, Cole and Tory are not simply hypothetical political opponents; they have long been at odds. The 35-year-old Black activist-journalist has consistently and directly challenged the older, white career politician and businessman, especially with regard to police accountability and race relations. But Cole has a vision that eludes his incumbent: one that can inspire the public to imagine a radically better future.

The personal is the professional

Prior to holding the municipal government to account, Cole was more intimately concerned with another powerful institution. In a 2015 Toronto Life article titled “The Skin I’m In,” he gained widespread attention for his description of how he has been followed, stopped, and interrogated by police without cause — a total of over 50 instances. His story shone a bright light on the police practice of carding, which was found to target Black Torontonians 17 times more than white Torontonians in parts of the city.

During his subsequent tenure as a columnist for the Toronto Star, Cole grounded his personal experiences with police within wider commentaries on racial justice, ranging from the anti-Blackness of Pride Toronto to the indefinite detention of migrants in Canada’s prisons — all of which demanded accountability from powerful institutions. Not only did these issues frequently pit him against Tory and the Toronto Police, but they caused him to butt heads with the Star’s own publisher, John Honderich, who admonished Cole for writing about race too often. Soon, Cole found that his weekly articles had been cut down to a column once every other week.

Nonetheless, Cole remained headstrong in the public sphere. In 2016, at an anti-racism public consultation, he challenged Tory to explain why he never met with Black Lives Matter Toronto during their 15-day protest campout in front of police headquarters. “I should have been there,” the Mayor conceded.

In April this year, Cole again rattled the establishment by holding up a Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) meeting where Tory was present, as he rebuked their decision not to destroy the data collected from carding. The Star again policed Cole’s behaviour, arguing he had breached the paper’s apparent policy that journalists cannot play both “actor and critic.” In response, Cole resigned from his columnist post. “If I must choose between a newspaper column and the actions I must take to liberate myself and my community,” he said, “I choose activism in the service of Black liberation.”

The false dichotomy between activism and journalism peddled by his editors at the Star reveals how uncomfortable the city’s powerful, predominantly white institutions still remain on addressing race relations. But for Cole, the personal is the professional; his identity as a Black man is inextricably connected to his work.

His resignation from the Star, his protests at the police board meeting, and his contemplation of the mayoralty convey one clear quality: being neutral is not an option. He clearly and unwaveringly champions principles of accountability and justice, and acts on them at a personal cost. Toronto urgently needs to bring marginalized communities into the politics from which they are normally excluded — and Cole’s strong, personal connection to such constituencies represents the kind of strength we need in the leadership of this city.

Freedom and justice: all or nothing

Speaking about race, reconciliation, and Canada 150 at the “Glorious & Free?” panel at the 2017 International Festival of Authors, Cole asked the audience, “Are you free if I’m not free?” He was referring not only to how Black liberation is intertwined with other struggles for freedom, but also to his upcoming court date on November 23, further to his arrest at another TPSB meeting in July.

Cole explained what happened in a statement on Facebook. “I went to speak about Dafonte Miller, 19, who was beaten by a Toronto Police officer… but the police board did not put his situation on its agenda. When I spoke about Dafonte anyway, I was arrested and charged with trespassing — at a public meeting.” Cole’s stand for Dafonte reminds all Torontonians that if any one of us is subject to institutional violence and suppression, none of us are truly free.

As mayor, Cole would likely prioritize the cornerstone issue of police accountability, which affects many minority communities in Toronto. We might expect him to start by dismantling the current governance structure of Toronto Police, implementing direct and democratic community ownership of the city’s law enforcement system, and finally, removing the presence of armed police from public schools.

At the same time, racial justice is not the only issue on Cole’s mind. Indeed, being a progressive candidate would mean fighting for all who are marginalized.

Through his Newstalk 1010 radio show, 70,000-strong Twitter audience, and journalistic work, Cole has devoted coverage to various key concerns affecting people in the city, including the overdose crisis, lack of affordable housing, austerity measures, and transit issues. He has also mapped solidarities with Indigenous, migrant, queer, and trans people in the city. Because Cole wants to prioritize issues marginalized by the incumbent, he would be a clear progressive option who could draw alternative perspectives from his work on the ground and make the mayoralty about the many, not the few.

“My future in politics”

A Cole mayoralty would mean many things to many people. At the moment, only Doug Ford has been confirmed as an official mayoral candidate. Both Ford and Tory are elite figures who represent the interests of the right and centre-right respectively. Even if Tory runs and wins a second term, the critical value in having a candidate like Cole is that he has the potential to smash the eliteness and mediocrity that currently immobilizes Toronto’s politics.

Additionally, a majority of Toronto’s residents identify themselves as visible minorities. The visibility of a mayor of colour in a city of colour would thereby align with the rise to power of other racialized leaders: think federal New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh and Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi.

However, electing Cole as mayor is not a matter of novelty or tokenism. In his own right, Cole has demonstrated his active and unwavering commitment to progressive issues. The mayoralty would simply offer him a larger scope to continue to reshape dialogue and embolden grassroots progressive movements toward intersectional justice. He could do for this city’s stale politics what Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn achieved with their own campaigns: provide the vision of an outsider who does not shy away from radical social change.

In 2006, as a Toronto City Council Candidate for Ward 20 (Trinity-Spadina), a 24-year-old Desmond Cole was profiled by a Varsity writer. Contemplating the possibility of his electoral loss, Cole foreshadowed to The Varsity: “I still accomplished something. I’ve built a base for myself and for my future in politics.” He continued, “This has been too much of a success to let it be a one-off.”

Eleven years later, we, as part of another generation of Varsity writers, are ready for Cole to finally realize that future in politics — if he decides to run.

Clement Cheng is a third-year student at Victoria College studying Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies, Geography, and English.

Ibnul Chowdhury is a third-year student at Trinity College studying Economics and Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies. He is The Varsity‘s Associate Comment Editor.

City Council votes in favour of keeping Bloor Bike lanes

Plans for bike lane expansion in the works

City Council votes in favour of keeping Bloor Bike lanes

On November 7, the Toronto City Council voted to maintain the bike lanes on Bloor Street, with 36 in favour and six against. This follows a year long Bloor Street Bike Lane project to make the lanes permanent.

Last month, the city staff released a report that the bike lanes had reached their goal of improving the safety of cyclists, increasing the amount of people who cycle, and reduced the inconvenience of cyclists to other road users. There was no major increase in travel time for motor vehicles along the streets where the bike lanes were implemented.

The bike lanes themselves stretch 2.4 kilometres along Bloor, from Shaw Street to Avenue Road. Toronto Transportation Services General Manager Barbara Grey said the pilot came out of a 10 year cycling plan.

“We worked very closely with the BIA’s, the business community, the adjacent communities through a series of public consultations, to come up with the design that we ultimately implemented through the term of the one year pilot,” said Grey.

In the first year of the project, there was a 56 per cent increase of cyclists on Bloor Street, 25 per cent of which were new cyclists. Bloor Street now has the second-highest volume of cyclists in the city as a result of the pilot project.

The project also saw a 71 per cent decrease in motorized vehicle conflicts, a 61  per cent decrease in conflicts between cyclists and motorized vehicles, and a 55 per cent decrease in conflicts between pedestrians and motorized vehicles.

There was, however, a 61 per cent increase in cyclist and pedestrian conflicts. Overall, the project increased the overall safety of drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians with a 44 per cent decrease in total road conflicts.

During the City Council meeting, there was also discussion of an expansion plan in the works, in 2019 or beyond. This would expand the bike lanes westbound, following the pilot project. There is also an expansion project underway to move the bike lanes eastward.

“One of the things we’re most excited about with Bloor Street is that when you have people who can safely choose to cycle then they’re not driving in [congested traffic],” said Grey.

666 Spadina proposal to include affordable housing, improved streetscapes

Mixed-use, 11-storey building suggested

666 Spadina proposal to include affordable housing, improved streetscapes

The Toronto and East York Community Council amended the proposed development for 666 Spadina Avenue at a meeting on October 17 to recommend an investment into affordable housing and improving streetscapes in the area.

The proposal, submitted by Spadina Towers Inc. in July 2016, suggests adding an 11-storey, mixed-use infill building with 133 rental apartments and an on-site park. The lot, built in 1972 and listed as a heritage building, currently hosts a 25-storey apartment building with 334 rental units.

The report sent to the Toronto and East York Community Council states that the application underwent modifications to reflect the concerns of citizens and City Staff — the City of Toronto Official Plan requires residents of the area to be consulted before intensification of development. The modified proposal is meant to supply “a positive contribution to the neighbourhood through the addition of the new on-site park, POPs [Privately-Owned Publicly Accessible Spaces], and pedestrian circulation throughout the site.”

Sue Dexter, U of T Liaison for the Harbord Village Residents Association (HVRA), stated that the development proposal is “great for the community.”

The Harbord Village area — spanning from Bloor Street and Spadina to Bathurst Street and College Street — is a densely student-populated area, and the accessibility of more affordable housing close to campus is vital to them. Dexter said that the neighbourhood welcomes the large student population.

Dr. David Hulchanski, a professor of housing and community development with the Faculty of Social Work, with the Department of Geography and Urban Planning, commented, “Infill, residential land use intensification, is good, more rental [opportunities are] good.”

It is recommended that the owner of the lot be required to act pursuant to Section 37 of the Planning Act, which refers to height and density of developments, and reflect community benefits. The agreement would secure a cash contribution of $800,000 from the owner. Under the agreement of the Chief Planner and Executive Director, $400,000 would go toward creating affordable housing within Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina, and the other $400,000 toward improving local greenscapes, public realm, and neighbourhood greening improvements in the vicinity.

According to Dexter, the planning process of the development has been much more productive and collaborative than the university’s conflict with the city over the lot across the street, 698 Spadina. The university’s plan is for the 698 infill to be 23 storeys and have zero green space — which stands in contrast to the modest 11 proposed storeys and the ample green space proposed for 666 Spadina, which would double the amount of park space in Harbord Village.

The HVRA believes that the development “creatively addresses the need for rental housing, for affordable housing and for community green space.”

The report cites the “Harbord Village Green Plan,” which is designed to preserve and maximize the green spaces in the Harbord Village area. The plan aims to target park improvements, street keeping, and other motives such as laneway greening.

When first proposed in July 2016, attendees in a community consultation were concerned about the site’s local green space and impact on the heritage site.

The amended proposal will be presented to the Toronto City Council on November 7, 2017.