Metro: The Great Island Airport Debate - The Unanswered Questions

Metro Columnist Matt Elliott Asks: What Kind of Waterfront Do We Really Want? September 22, 2013 TORONTO - We’re now a few months into the super repetitive 2013 edition of the Great Island Airport Debate. At issue: should city hall OK a proposal to allow jets to make use of Billy Bishop Airport on Toronto Island? On this topic, I mostly just have questions. Questions that have gone unanswered despite a set of public consultations that wrapped up last week and a growing stack of staff reports on the subject. Questions like, hey, so what exactly is the plan for the airport anyway? This should be obvious, but I’m not sure it is. The story we’re being told is that Porter Airlines is simply asking permission to use quiet Bombardier-built CS100 jets. It’s easy to see why that proposal might appeal to a lot of Torontonians. Bombardier is a Canadian company providing Canadian jobs. And Porter is well-liked, what with their lovable raccoon mascot and the free in-flight booze. But Porter and Bombardier aren’t the only players here. Porter doesn’t own the island airport — taxpayers do, through the Toronto Port Authority. Porter doesn’t have exclusive rights to it, nor is Bombardier the only manufacturer of planes that can land there. Staff at city hall have already admitted that governments can’t show favouritism in the outcome of this debate. Extending the runway into Lake Ontario and allowing the CS100s would mean allowing any airline’s jets that fit noise requirements and runway specs. A staff report released last week says Air Canada, United Airlines and WestJet are all interested. In other words, it seems wrong to paint this as a minor change to Porter’s existing service. There’s something considerably more substantial going on here. It’s important to understand the full ramifications before any decisions are made. Beyond that, I wonder about another piece of public infrastructure you and I are set to own: the Union-Pearson Express. It’s supposed to whisk travellers from downtown Toronto to our biggest airport in about 25 minutes. It seems natural to assume this new train might impact the need for expansion of the island airport, but data on the subject seems hard to find. It shouldn’t be. Finally, and most critically, I keep coming back to this question: what kind of waterfront do we really want? I don’t really buy into the apocalyptic narrative about jets at the island airport turning the waterfront into a wasteland littered with dead birds, but it’s impossible to ignore that a growing airport seems fundamentally at odds with a waterfront designed for people to live, work and play. Not allowing jets may seem like an arbitrary line to draw, but maybe it’s also a line that makes it clear what we value about our waterfront going forward: the people, not the planes. Source: Metro column by Matt Elliott