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Toronto’s chief planner calls on city to lead transit discussion

Jennifer Keesmaat, chief planner and executive director, Toronto City Hall, speaks about transit at an Economic Club of Canada luncheon at the InterContinental Toronto Centre Hotel on Monday, May 6, 2013.

matthew sherwood The Globe and Mail

Toronto should be "a leader" in the region's transit-funding discussion, said the city's chief planner, who warned that refusing to invest simply pushes the problem onto the next generation.

Speaking after an address on transit hosted by the Economic Club of Canada, Jennifer Keesmaat said she is keen for the issue of funding to make its way onto the council floor Tuesday, and is looking forward to a meaningful debate.

"I'm hoping it will be re-opened and I'm hoping there'll be a rigorous conversation," she told reporters. "This is also about making a recommendation to the province for [transit funding] tools on a regional scale. And it behooves the city of Toronto to add its voice to that conversation, and I would argue to be a leader in that conversation. But adding its voice to that conversation is essential."

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Led by Mayor Rob Ford, the city's cabinet-like executive committee voted last month to defer city council's debate about revenue tools for transit until late May. They chose to push it to a date after the board of Metrolinx, the regional transit agency, will approve its recommended funding mechanisms for the $34-billion in transit planning, effectively nullifying Toronto's contribution to those recommendations.

A number of city politicians are eager to force the issue onto the agenda for the council meeting Tuesday, though, undeterred by Mr. Ford's warning he will try to tar them for supporting tax increases.

Ms. Keesmaat had been speaking about how the city could "rediscover our transit mojo" and pointed out to the lunchtime crowd that Toronto had once been a leader in transit planning. But she noted in her address that investment dropped off dramatically a generation ago, and said the city has been only "tinkering" around the margins of the system ever since.

"I wasn't being facetious when I say 'we're cashing in on the legacy but we haven't been contributing to it,' and I think this is something we need to grapple with," she stressed to reporters after the talk. "In some ways, not investing today, we're just putting it off on another generation. It never goes away, the need never goes away."

And this matters, she warned, because the city's economic future depends on attracting and retaining the boomer echo generation. These people, aged 18-34, want to live a different life than their parents and value access to transit, cycling infrastructure and walkability, she explained.

"That generation is already voting … through our condo boom," Ms. Keesmaat told the audience, referencing the scores of building that have sprung up in downtown Toronto. "They're showing us where they want to live."

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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