After conservative Doug Ford, the new Premier of Ontario, announced that Toronto will lose 18 city council seats, Jennifer Keesmaat decided to run for office.
On the last Friday of July, less than six hours before the registration deadline to run for Mayor of Toronto, the city's former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat, was at her office and checking Twitter.
The night before, the Toronto Star had broken news that the recently elected Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, planned to dynamite Toronto's upcoming municipal election, slashing the number of available council seats from 47 to 25, effective immediately.
After years of study and public consultation, the city had just finished redrawing its ward boundaries ensure more equal representation. Under Ford's plan, announced with no warning, some councillors elected this fall could end up representing more than 100,000 people—more than the population of some Canadian territories. “I heard the story break… on Thursday evening and saw it unfold on the Friday morning,” said Keesmaat. “I had been in an early-morning meeting and it was when I came out of that meeting that everything became crystal clear.”
“It was very much the last straw,” she said. “All of those concerns that have been building and building over many months... culminated in that moment.” Keesmaat cycled to city hall, joined the line at the city clerk's office, and put her name on the ballot for the October 7 election.
Before making a last-minute decision to face incumbent Mayor John Tory in an election, Keesmaat was the City of Toronto's chief planner from 2012 to 2017. She was instrumental in shepherding a number of urban improvements through a skeptical city council. The King Street transit pilot, which currently limits auto traffic on the city's busiest streetcar route, was approved during her tenure. So were some the city's most popular bike lanes, along Richmond and Adelaide streets.
However, she was also in charge of planning when council decided to spend more than a billion dollars rebuilding a lightly-used section of elevated waterfront expressway. The titanically expensive one-stop subway extension into Scarborough was also approved while she was at city hall.