Chris Hume: Is Quiet Deal Over Fees Prelude to Allowing Jets?
Column in the Toronto Star: "Is quiet deal over Billy Bishop Airport fees a prelude to allowing jets at island?" TORONTO - Except for one little thing, Robert Deluce has almost all he needs to realize his dream of flying jets out of Billy Bishop airport.
Unfortunately for him, that one thing is the truth. The facts make it clear that passenger jets have no place at the already too-heavily-used island facility.
Unfortunately for Toronto, the truth is unlikely to play much of a role when it comes to giving Deluce what he wants.
Just last week, after a fight between city hall and the Toronto Port Authority that dates back to 1999 (when the federal agency that owns and operates Billy Bishop rose from the ashes of the Toronto Harbour Commission), the two quietly, furtively, announced the port authority would pay the city a “payment-in-lieu-of-taxes” of 94 cents per passenger. In case you had forgotten, federal bodies are exempt from municipal property tax. This so-called PILT, which will amount to barely more than $1 million annually, means the authority, which has fought the city at every turn since the days when current federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt was port authority CEO, can now present itself as a model of civic co-operation.
For many Torontonians, especially those who fly Porter Airlines, that will be enough to ensure their support for airport expansion.
So far, the arguments in favour have been based on the simplistic issue of the noise levels of jets and the highly dubious claim that the facility contributes $1.9 billion to the Toronto economy.
Safety, both of passengers and the thousands who live around Billy Bishop, has never been seriously discussed by any of the proponents of expansion. And for good reason. The fact is the island airport simply cannot support jets with any margin of error. The one thing Deluce and his allies don’t want us to know is that there’s not enough room. Even with a longer runway, there isn’t enough room for jets to take off and land safely.
Anyone who claims otherwise would put profit ahead of people. Few expect more from the corporate sector, but surely we should be able to rely on city councillors to put the interests of Torontonians above those of business?
Already, the students at the Waterfront School and users of the Harbourfront Community Centre breathe some of the most toxic air in Toronto — because of taxies not turboprops.
One might also have thought that the city (as well as the federal and provincial governments) would want to protect the roughly $4 billion they and their private-sector partners have invested in waterfront revitalization, which ultimately will create much more wealth for Toronto than the island airport.
But, as often seems the case, convenience is at the heart of the matter. The small cohort of Porter flyers loves it because it’s downtown and easy to use. By contrast, Pearson is a Kafkaesque nightmare where nothing works and nobody’s around to explain why you’ve been waiting for hours, even days, for something to happen.
Deluce and his team are to be admired for their salesmanship, but in their zeal they have lost sight of the bigger picture. Marketing excellence shouldn’t be confused with doing the right thing.
Allowing jets at Billy Bishop would open the floodgates; already WestJet wants in, and how soon before Air Canada demands its share of the action?
The beauty of the island airport has always been its size. Making it larger would kill the goose that laid the golden egg, and for Deluce, mark the triumph of greed over need.
Christopher Hume can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Source of Article: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2014/01/20/council_port_authority_pave_way_for_harmful_island_airport_expansion_hume.html