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The Toronto Island Airport Follies
04/05/2005

These federal Liberals make everything seem so hard. The issue of the Toronto Island Airport bridge is yet more evidence.

After David Miller won the mayoralty of Toronto running on a campaign promise to stop the bridge and airport expansion, prime-minister-in-waiting Paul Martin told him and the press that he would follow the mayor's lead on the issue (link PDF). That was November 11 or 12, 2003. A month or so later, City Council voted to stop the bridge, making the City's position official.

Not much happened in the months that followed. The City was told to work out a deal with the federal government's agency, the Toronto Port Authority. The TPA needed the bridge to keep themselves in lunch money, seeing as the port itself is fairly small and the airport is a big money loser. Not much progress was made. Meanwhile, the federal government was issuing approvals to the project.

A few months later, Paul Martin called an election. Toronto-Danforth MP Dennis Mills' seat was in jeopardy, so Martin's GTA Minister Joe Volpe sent along a letter again promising to do something about the bridge. Meanwhile, the TPA kept threatening to build one anyway.

As the election became increasingly desperate for Martin's team, they came out with a proposal to kill the bridge by a cabinet order-in-council. It took them a while, but it seemed like the deal was finally done... nevermind the fact that it looked like a desperate last-minute move to try to save local seats. And while it didn't save Dennis Mills, it may be responsible for Trinity-Spadina MP Tony Ianno's reelection in a close race over Olivia Chow.

At the time, I wrote that while the bridge itself was not the most important issue facing Toronto, it was symptomatic of many federal Liberal failings. Little did I know. After the election, there was no order-in-council. But now, 11 months later and facing yet another scary election, the Liberals have finally come up with a firm plan to stop the bridge. If you can believe what you read, the order-in-council was made official yesterday.

This new plan involves a pay-out to the Toronto Port Authority of $35-million. The bridge itself was going to cost $22-million. Possibly some of the $35-million will go to the construction company that was pushing forward on the bridge plan long after Paul Martin made his pledges. Possibly some of it will go to the airline entrepreneur who is threatening to sue the City for $500-million. But John Barber thinks that much of it is going to the Toronto Port Authority itself just to keep them afloat for a few more years. There are some hints that this money might go toward building a fast ferry for the airport, and Robert Deluce says he may still start an airline there.

The Toronto Port Authority is an organization that serves no purpose and lives on government handouts. It is a destination for Liberal patronage appointees. Their desire to massively expand the island airport is derived from a wish to create a profit source that can keep them in "business", and offers no benefit to Toronto. Perhaps coincidentally, their partners in the airport scheme are all Liberal-connected or former big Liberal contributors like Bombardier. Their sole political support has also been from Liberals -- in Ottawa, and here in Toronto.

As far as I'm concerned, this whole affair is one more reason we need a new government in Ottawa. The NDP would vote to get rid of the TPA, and a Toronto Conservative candidate promised last year to consider the same.


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