Aug. 28, 2017
Toronto’s Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, is leaving the City of Toronto Sept. 29 to “pursue other interests,” read a news release from the city, sent Monday afternoon.
Keesmaat spent five years in the role of the city’s chief planner.
Mayor John Tory and Deputy City Manager John Livey were both quoted in the release, thanking Keesmaat for her leadership.
“I want to personally thank Jennifer for her tremendous passion, leadership and innovation in driving forward a number of major projects for the City as we continue to move Toronto toward becoming a more livable, affordable and functional city,” Mayor Tory said.
“Jennifer is a strong and forthright proponent of complete communities, cross-sector collaboration and public consultation on every project she undertakes, which has helped achieve broad support for many of the City’s major infrastructure projects,” Livey said.
North York Mirror’s David Nickle wrote, “Since she was hired, Keesmaat has been a very public face for Toronto’s planning department. Sometimes she found herself at odds with her political masters, as when she spoke to a University of Toronto audience in 2015 and advocated tearing down the eastern tail of the Gardiner Expressway, in opposition to Mayor John Tory’s plans to maintain an elevated highway there.”
CP24.com’s Sandie Benitah reminded readers that Toronto Life and Macleans magazines have named her as one of the most important and influential people in the city. Benitah also wrote of Keesmaat’s “clash” with Tory over the future of the Gardiner Expressway. “Tory had been pushing for a ‘hybrid’ solution that would see only the elevated portion, east of the Don River, removed. Keesmaat was said to have received a ‘talking to.’ Tory’s stance was eventually approved by council.”
The Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro covered some of Keesmaat’s earlier run-ins with the media as well as one former councillor’s take on her tenure. “Keesmaat was appointed by the city in 2012 out of the private sector, in part, to be a visionary, said provincial housing minister Peter Milczyn, who, as a city councillor, led the selection process. ‘With the exception of maybe a couple of tweets early on in her time at city hall, I think she was always professional and objective and fulfilled her role as a public servant very well,’ he said.”
CBC.ca’s coverage addressed speculation of a move into politics. “Keesmaat did not respond directly to CBC Toronto’s question about a possible mayoral run, instead tweeting the following.
A political run by Keesmaat wouldn’t be a surprise to urban planner Sean Galbraith, who says the volume of projects she oversaw during her time in the role was ‘unprecedented.’
‘I think that Jen did amazing work to raise the public profile of planning in Toronto and the planning department. She was a very different style of chief planner, one that was needed in the department,’ Galbratih said.”
The Globe and Mail’s Jeff Gray spoke with Keesmaat. “In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Keesmaat said that after five years – she was hired in 2012 during the tumultuous term of mayor Rob Ford – she felt it was time to move on. Ms. Keesmaat said she did not have another job lined up and was only beginning to explore her options. ‘I really felt like I needed to start thinking about my next chapter,’ Ms. Keesmaat said. ‘… I feel like I have contributed what I could in this role.’ She dismissed any idea that her clashes with the mayor over the Gardiner or the Scarborough subway extension had anything to do with her departure, saying she was leaving on very good terms with Mr. Tory: ‘The mayor and I, it’s no secret, had a very, very rocky start. It was very bumpy in the beginning and it took us both a little bit to get used to each other. But if you look at the last several years … the mayor has been wonderful. He has been willing to tolerate a chief planner who didn’t fit in a box. … On Monday, Ms. Keesmaat, while not ruling it out, said politics wasn’t something she was considering now: ‘It’s difficult for me to imagine that.’ ”