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It's Not Too Late to Stop the Foolish Island Airport Expansion
02/10/2003

I find it interesting how the political supporters of the Toronto Island Airport Expansion don't make many arguments in favour anymore. They just focus on telling people it's a done-deal.

For example, City Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong is quoted in today's Globe and Mail as saying that undoing the deal is "next to impossible."

I've also reported that this is the stance that's being taken by mayoral candidate John Nunziata. He spoke along these lines at the Waterfront Debate that I attended, and a friend who went to last night's Canada 25 debate told me he said it again.

Why don't these people make arguments in favour of the airport? Probably because none of the arguments hold water.

The other reason they are focusing on this message is to make airport opponents feel hopeless and give up. Mayoral candidate David Miller -- for whom I have been volunteering since September 26 -- has made opposing the airport deal one of the pillars of his campaign, and has been picking up support for it.

It seems that the Toronto Port Authority also wants to suggest to everyone that this is a done deal. CommunityAIR -- a community organization that is fighting the expansion -- issued a press release yesterday on this subject. It doesn't seem to be available online and I think it is interesting enough to quote it at length:

Approval of the bridge still has many hurdles to overcome. The Toronto Port Authority press release fails to mention that the environmental assessment is subject to review and approval by responsible federal authorities, including Transport Canada, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Public Works and Government Services Canada. Given the flawed state of the assessment, it could also be subject to a judicial review.

The Port Authority’s press release failed to state that the approval for the bridge under the Navigable Waterways Protection Act has yet to be received. Nor did it explain that over a dozen conditions for approval of the bridge, imposed by Toronto City Council, have not been met.

The real story at the Toronto Port Authority’s Annual General Meeting today was the disastrous state of the agency’s finances. The Toronto Port Authority’s self serving press release obscures its desperate financial situation. Here’s the news from today’s AGM that the Toronto Port Authority does not want the media to report:

  • Operating losses from the operation of the Port Authority’s three main business lines — the commercial port, the Island Airport, and the Outer Harbour Marina — continue to skyrocket. Operating losses in 2002 totalled $6.3-million on $9.4-million in combined revenue from the three lines of business. In other words the Toronto Port Authority had to spend $1.67 to generate $1 in revenue.
  • The Island Airport continues its freefall. Airport revenues in 2002 dropped to $2.1-million, comparable to a small retail store. Even on this tiny revenue base, airport expenses were $4.3-million, including allocated headquarters and depreciation costs. This means the airport had to spend $2.10 to generate $1.
  • Commercial passengers at the Island Airport continued to decline from 88,000 in 2001 down to 78,000 in 2002. There will be another major drop-off in 2003 now that Air Canada Jazz has discontinued flights to Montreal and London, leaving only a handful of flights to Ottawa.
  • Airport tenant A.T.R. Seminars Inc., is in receivership, citing adverse weather conditions “at A.T.R.’s training facility at the Toronto City Centre Airport which resulted in lower than budgeted flying hours by both commercial and recreational student pilots”. Another key tenant, Flight Exec, a medevac and air charter group has moved the bulk of its operations to a new hangar at Buttonville airport.
  • Under questioning today, the Toronto Port Authority acknowledged that it has not paid its property tax to the City of Toronto for 4 years. It now owes the City over $21-million in back taxes. The City is being kept at bay by “ongoing negotiations” and for good reason. The Toronto Port Authority does not appear to have the cash on hand to pay its delinquent tax bill.

Community AIR believes these are the real stories. Today’s “done deal” press release from the Toronto Port Authority is just the latest in a long line of smokescreens and spin. This one, sent on the day of the release of the 2002 financial results, obscures the federal agency’s desperate financial plight. It is aimed at convincing thousands of concerned Torontonians that there is no hope for a clean, green waterfront in this city and that a vehicle bridge and a major regional airport in the heart of Toronto’s waterfront are unstoppable.

The federal government has many ways to stop the Island Airport expansion, if it chooses to do so. Remember that the TPA is a federal agency. The feds may not be motivated to step in now (for reasons I'll discuss later), but it is possible to send them a message in the municipal election on November 10.

At the Waterfront Debate, David Miller said that is he's elected mayor on an anti-airport platform, Ottawa will be obliged to listen. He's right.

DISCLAIMER: The words in this article and in all postings on this website are my own. They do not necessarily represent the views of David Miller or his campaign.


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