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Why Jennifer Keesmaat’s mayoral campaign never took flight




Just days after Jennifer Keesmaat cycled to city hall and dramatically signed up at the last minute to challenge John Tory in Toronto’s mayoral race, she was surrounded by advisers in her midtown kitchen.

The ad hoc group assembled around her, according to two people who were there, were comprised of a collection of NDPers, including Councillor Joe Cressy, a smattering of Liberals, including MP Adam Vaughan, now re-elected councillor Shelley Carroll and several of former premier Kathleen Wynne’s staff members who would later be visible on Keesmaat’s campaign.

A “kitchen cabinet” of sorts, they came to one conclusion: the ballot question had to be about Premier Doug Ford slashing council nearly in half without warning. It had to be about which candidate could better stand up to a bully.

In the end, sources say, the campaign team that later assembled all but abandoned that narrative. Several agreed that, overall, it was Keesmaat’s team that let down Toronto’s former chief planner.

The Star is not naming sources who requested anonymity because their positions do not allow them to speak freely about confidential campaign information.

In the wake of a commanding victory by a still-popular Tory in Monday night’s election, those both on the periphery and inside the campaign say the lack of time Keesmaat had to make her pitch made the gap nearly impossible to close. But attacking Tory more than focusing on a fight with Ford, and failing to lay out her vision for the city, hurt her case.

Since 2017, Toronto progressives had calls and meetings trying to identify a progressive standard-bearer. Those who said no included Vaughan, former Toronto deputy police chief Peter Sloly, Councillor Mike Layton, retired sports executive Richard Peddie and Keesmaat, confirmed multiple sources who spoke to the Star on condition of anonymity.

Until the morning of July 27, when Ford confirmed his plan to slash the size of city council and Tory responded with what many saw as a meek response, Keesmaat was firmly against running, say all those who spoke to the Star. Tory, a conservative first elected in 2014, had no serious challenger.

The candidate search instantly restarted with a flurry of phone calls. Layton and Vaughan considered the question but again said no, said a source on the calls. Keesmaat, after a conference call with family members, said yes, triggering her trip to city hall and answering the prayers of progressives who feared Ford’s toll on Toronto if Tory insisted on playing nice with the premier.

Her supporters — she walked into the race with no team — hoped they could catch lightning in a bottle.

“In the end this was not Jennifer’s race to win,” Cressy said in an interview. “The biggest lesson is that mayoralty campaigns require exceptional organization and preparation, that launching a campaign before the wings are on the plane is extremely difficult.”

A seasoned team was quickly assembled, eventually moving out of her Chaplin Estates home — a mix of former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty staffers, Wynne staffers and seasoned NDPers. Her campaign manager was Brian Topp, the former chief of staff to Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley. Most did not know Keesmaat and were less familiar with city hall politics than Tory’s mix of Liberals and Conservatives.

Keesmaat herself drove the policy that was released, with the team at first slow on the uptake to distil her detailed ideas into platform planks that were palatable to the public, one insider said. It included a rent-to-own housing program, turning city-run golf courses into more accessible public spaces and a push for gender equity on city boards and commissions.

The initial rollout was slow. Over the course of just over 60 days, she made about a dozen major announcements. After the first announcement on Aug. 7 about her affordable housing plan, she did not return with another pitch to voters until Aug. 30, 23 days later, rolling out her transit plan.

In the first announcement on affordable housing, the successful businesswoman and former chief planner, who is in demand for speeches worldwide, relied on notes and speaking points in front of her — something insiders say was a repeated mistake.

One political observer said the voters who don’t remember her from her city hall days never got to see the real Keesmaat — a planner obsessed with evidence and details, who talks easily and inspirationally about transit-oriented development and complete communities.

“All that was missing,” said one source who observed the campaign from the periphery, noting the campaign got Keesmaat speaking on an NDP message track instead of Keesmaat finding a team to rally around her own confident, unique vision.

Another tactical error, sources said, was the focus on attacking Tory.

Three to four weeks into the campaign, a team meeting to regroup on messaging happened in a boardroom at DIALOG — the planning consultancy that encompassed the firm started by Keesmaat before she became chief planner. Keesmaat rehearsed a new stump speech slagging Tory, which some in the room said was too off-brand.

Those in attendance were divided over whether attacking Tory as a primary campaign tactic was the right move.

The team also failed, one source said, to slap Tory for his refusal to debate Keesmaat one-on-one. A chicken suit was ordered to shame him but its arrival, the source said, was delayed by customs. It was eventually used briefly to no effect.

Keesmaat’s team, the same source said, also failed to capitalize on Ford’s decision to invoke the notwithstanding clause to overrule a court judgement that blocked his legislation cutting the size of council to 25 wards.

Another source said: “Jennifer’s not an attack dog . . . I feel like she was limited to really transmitting who she was as a leader.” One insider noted Keesmaat was struggling in the limelight to transform from urbanist speaker and ex-bureaucrat to hard-hitting politician.

“She was trying to find her own voice as a politician too,” one source told the Star, acknowledging Keesmaat frequently stuck to talking points in the beginning. “It was an entirely new thing for her.”

Meanwhile, the campaign only ever really mounted an “air war” — messaging — without any serious efforts to mobilize a ground game to get signs in yards and identify voters to get to the polls.

Keesmaat did not agree to an interview for this story.

Chris Ball, a former Ontario NDP communications staffer and principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group, who ran Keesmaat’s war room, told the Star he feels good about the campaign they ran.

“It started on the last day for registration and we did build a bit of a movement behind us,” he said. “I think getting around 25 per cent of the vote is actually a good showing for a campaign that had less time than the incumbent. We took on a popular incumbent and Doug Ford dominated the race for about two-and-a-half weeks.”

Keesmaat also had advice on key policy from the likes of Sloly, and those with business acumen like former MLSE boss Peddie.

“We had a mayor who has never really stopped campaigning since the day he got elected four years ago. He’s a photo-op waiting to happen,” said Peddie. Tory was, he said, the safe candidate in an uncertain time for the city under Premier Ford.

“Time was not an ally for her. When she started she didn’t have an office, she didn’t have a (campaign) phone. She was starting from nothing and that had to hurt. Would a couple of more months made a difference? Sure it would have. Would it have been enough to beat a safe-looking incumbent? Probably not.”

Throughout, one insider said Keesmaat remained “upbeat” as volunteers and residents said they were compelled to get involved for the first time because of her candidacy. Peddie said she was “very happy with the team around her.”

The source who was critical of the campaign’s tactics made clear Keesmaat herself was a “solid candidate” full of confidence and poise.

“In some ways, what she did from a dead start was pretty remarkable,” that source said.

Another source with outside knowledge of the campaign said Keesmaat never really had a fighting chance — that there was likely no progressive candidate who could have bested Tory.

“In this city, unless you’re a crack-smoking mayor you’re pretty safe for two terms, and I’m not convinced Rob (Ford) couldn’t have been re-elected.”

David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering Toronto politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags


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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme




Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year




In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal




MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.


The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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