'Hired gun' or independent witness? Mayor and CAMPP dispute over appeal expert

Windsor's mayor wonders about Jennifer Keesmaat's credibility as a witness for the mega-hospital appeal, and a number of people have spoken up in her defence.

Jennifer Keesmaat is an expert planner who will raise concerns about mega-hospital location

Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto's former chief planner who is running for mayor in October's election, announced her five-point community safety plan on Monday. (CBC)

The Citizens for an Accountable Mega-Hospital Planning Process (CAMPP) group wants to remind Windsor's mayor that its expert witness is not only accomplished, but also an independent party in the mega-hospital appeal process.

The group revealed last week that Toronto's former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat will be a witness for the Ontario's Local Planning Appeal Tribunal case in March.

CAMPP has said the City of Windsor hasn't followed the province's and its own policies before deciding to locate the mega-hospital near Windsor International Airport.

A few days after the announcement, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens questioned Keesmat's credentials and independence — calling her a "hired gun who will give an opinion for money" on Twitter.

"She is a consultant, she is someone who's available for hire. I certainly wouldn't consider her a rockstar," Dilkens later told CBC News.

In response, CAMPP's lawyer Eric Gillespie, speaking on behalf of Keesmaat, said it's unfortunate the mayor's has resorted to "name calling."

Gillespie points to the nature of the LPAT hearing, saying witnesses do not owe any obligations to their client.

"Ms. Keesmaat, like any other expert, has signed that. So it's just obvious that the mayor just doesn't understand the process," said Gillespie.

Keesmaat's supporter Richard Peddie also came to her defence.

The two have known each other for some time, and Peddie said he contributed to her mayoral campaign financially.

Peddie said when he travels abroad and meets urbanists, "they all know Jennifer Keesmaat."

"Yeah, she's getting paid to do her job, but then lots of people are getting paid to do jobs. It's how they live."

Part of Dilkens' argument is that the province may see this "vocal minority" opposing the mega-hospital as a reason to pull funding.

He worries that with only NDP members representing the Windsor-Essex area, the premier "who's looking for cuts" may doubt "community support for this project."

But Peddie doesn't think that will happen, saying the province is "bigger than worrying about some differences of locations."

Additionally, Gillespie said, if anything, the province might see the mayor's response as a reason to pull funding.

"That may well give them a very good reason to say, we have concerns about why are we giving money to people that can't seem to pay attention to the fact that it's health care that's really at stake here, and that's what we should be focusing on."

With files from Sonya Varma and Flora Pan


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