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Chief planner’s rift with Mayor John Tory derails interview

Jennifer Keesmaat puts hand over lens, walks away from CP24 reporter. Mayor and his top staff were unhappy that Keesmaat advocated removing the east Gardiner.
June 16, 2015
By David Rider

Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat put her hand over a CP24 camera and walked away from an interview when asked about tensions between her and Mayor John Tory’s office.

CP24 reporter Jackie Crandles was interviewing Keesmaat Tuesday evening as Keesmaat walked into a debate about transit expansion in Toronto.

Crandles asked Keesmaat about city council’s close-vote decision last week to keep up the east Gardiner Expressway. Keesmaat, who advocated tearing the boulevard down and replacing it with an eight-lane boulevard, said she would implement council’s decision in her role as chief planner.

Crandles then said: “We understand that you had a discussion with Mayor Tory about ... ” but Keesmaat, smiling, interrupted her, shook her head, said something that ended with “on the air” and started to walk away.

Crandles said: “Have you been stifled by his office?”

Keesmaat stopped, replied testily: “Sorry, but I’m not talking about this on the air. Sorry, could you just not roll the camera?” and placed her hand over the video camera’s lens. “I’m offended because you’ve monopolized me as I’m running into a meeting and ... ”

Crandles protested: “I have a job to do though, I have to ask questions.”

Looking stressed, Keesmaat replied: “Fair ... ” but then turned and walked briskly away.

Crandles said Keesmaat later came out of the debate to apologize to the camera operator for covering up the lens, and said she is not used to being peppered with questions and has not received any media training.

Tory and his senior staff were upset that Keesmaat spoke in favour of Gardiner removal at a planning conference and on social media while he was aggressively pushing the so-called hybrid option. Many councillors, including members of Tory’s own executive committee, supported removal.

The Star revealed last Tuesday that Tory, the mayor’s staff, interim city manager John Livey and Keesmaat had earlier met to discuss the Gardiner - and Keesmaat apparently got a talking-to.

That followed earlier tensions over Keesmaat backing a downtown relief subway line as a top priority while Tory was trumpeting his SmartTrack transit expansion plan.