Watching the battle between the city and the Toronto Port Authority is like being stuck in a bad horror flick. Just when you think the stake has been driven into the necrotic heart of the Island Airport expansion plans, the undead issue rises from the grave to terrorize citizens yet again.
The stranglehold that the TPA holds over the City is entirely unconscionable. A federally-controlled agency, the TPA isn’t forced to be accountable to Toronto even though it operates Toronto’s own port. Only one of the seven Board members is appointed as a municipal representative, and the only way to fill one of the four private-sector seats on the Board is to be a commercial user or service provider of the port (City employees may not apply). Needless to say, this is to the exclusion of all non-commercial interests, like recreation and tourism.
Yesterday, Porter Airlines gained final approval from the Canadian Transportation Agency to fly turboprop aircraft from the island airport—an operation Porter originally claimed couldn’t happen without the now-canceled bridge. The feds gave Porter $20 million to start the service two years ago and to recover “sunk costs” of the bridge debacle (which ended-up costing the City $35 million to stop). The airport is run by the Toronto Port Authority, who originally contracted the services to expand the facility and build the bridge.
Without municipal control over our own port, we have no control over the waterfront we’ve been fighting for. Ottawa canceled the bridge deal after massive public opposition, but still secretly worked with the TPA and Porter Airlines to continue expansion of the airport, therefore attempting to restore profitability for the TPA.
The Canada Marine Act of 1998 was supposed to establish a clear framework, but it causes a conflict of interest with the Port Authority. Because the TPA is mandated to be financially self-sustaining, it causes the TPA to look at ways of making money above and beyond the set harbour fees laid-out by the Canada Marine Act. The TPA needs to make money before it even considers the needs of non-commercial and recreational users of the harbour, waterfront, or Toronto Islands. They have yet to turn a profit.
Having federal agency status also allows for secrecy, crucial in accelerating a deal past a point where it can’t be canceled without serious legal and financial repercussions. The TPA is only accountable to the Government of Canada, with little concern over the needs of Toronto residents or the City’s plan for the revitalization of the waterfront. Its supporters claim that an Island Airport expansion will bring business to the downtown core. Whom it really brings business to is Bombardier—the manufacturer of Porter’s aircraft—and top-floor executives who need to make their flight to New York slightly more convenient.
Like the bridge misadventure, the timing of the Porter deal falls during election time. Mayor Miller is vehemently opposed to expansion of the Island Airport, and Jane Pitfield is all over it like a shark on a wounded Girl Scout. Without any shred of irony, Pitfield says that the planes are all quiet turboprop models. Anybody who’s been near a commuter turboprop is familiar with their characteristic drone, both outside and inside the cabin.
Inconceivably, Pitfield also states, “The majority of people in this city support the airport [expansion].” Note to Jane: simply saying something doesn’t make it true.
Miller says that the airport deal dashes waterfront revitalization plans and that the public is subsidizing Porter Airlines. He wants control over the Toronto Port Authority to be turned over to the City, claiming an imperative under the Canada Marine Act.
As for Porter Airlines, CEO Robert Deluce couldn’t be more pleased. Like Pitfield, he unironically claims that Porter’s operation is in the public interest and is a crucial part of the waterfront revitalization. Emboldened, Deluce even extolls the allegedly drastic reduction of traffic on the Gardiner and Highway 427, according to a cover story in today’s Star, without mentioning where all of this displaced traffic would go instead, which is to the foot of Bathurst.
If your head hasn’t exploded yet, get this: the TPA actually sued CommunityAir for defamation. Yes, a federally-controlled agency slammed a lawsuit onto a non-profit volunteer community organization for opposing the TPA’s reckless, egregious disregard for the wishes of the public.
The rogue Toronto Port Authority must be stopped. It ignores massive public revolt. It makes deals in secret. It still can’t balance its books. It ignored city-issued stop-work orders and requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. It overrides municipal law. It refuses to co-operate with the City wherein the port itself resides. And you’re paying for it all—in so many ways.
Island Airport images from the Toronto Port Authority website.