I Got The TPA Porter Air Blues

February 24, 2010

I cannot lie. I like to fly as much as the next guy. As well as rhyme unnecessarily.

Aviation fascinates me. The sight of a plane either touching down or taking off still stops me in my tracks and fills me with childlike wonder. No matter how much I understand the science behind flight, there remains a little part of me that sees it as nothing short of a miracle.

In my line of work outside of contributing to these pages, I am often called on short notice to hop a plane and deliver my expertise all over the globe. Air travel is a regular part of my life. I view it as a blessing not a curse.

I live in downtown Toronto, close enough to the island airport to make it convenient to get to but not close enough for its aeronautical comings and goings to bother me if I were the kind of person put off by such things. As stated above, I’m not but the point I’m trying to make is that in terms of the island airport, on most accounts, I am simply an objective, outside observer. I have no vested interest one way or another in it.

Yet, I cannot bring myself to fly from this airport using Porter Air.

It’s not an environmental thing. Hell, I fly a lot. Clearly I’ve rationalized that as a major component of my carbon footprint. So I will not weigh in about the island airport’s impact from a pollution standpoint. I also think that an airport does not have to necessarily be detrimental from a waterfront redevelopment perspective. It could be a signature landmark; its presence felt like the planes from LaGuardia flying overhead Flushing Meadows during the U.S. Open tennis.

My aversion to the island airport, Porter Air and the federal agency that oversees both, the Toronto Port Authority (TPA), is purely political. The continued presence of the airport on the island represents the height of backroom cronyism, the influence of money and power, and serves as a prime example of the contempt in which our local government is held by their federal counterparts. Bay Street trumps Main Street to use a hoary cliché. Or should that be whore-y?

Now I’ve never actually seen a poll even from the committed anti-airport group CommunityAIR backing up their claim that a majority of Toronto residents want to see the airport shuttered. My thought is that a majority of residents don’t really think about it at all as it has no effect on their lives. It is the perpetually sneaky and underhanded behaviour of the TPA and Porter Air, however, that makes one wonder if there’s not something to CommunityAIR’s assessment of the situation.

One of the most recent examples of the TPA’s slipperiness was its announcement last Christmas Eve of a major expansion of the island airport. Now, major news releases are not made on Christmas Eve if the news contained within them is targeted for a wide audience. Just the opposite, in fact. This might be referred to as burying the news. Then, this past week with most eyes turned westward to Vancouver, Porter Air unveiled its new $50 million terminal that will greatly expand the number of flights going in and out of the airport. These are the kind of surreptitious PR moves that suggest a fear of an open and honest debate.

But that is just par for the course ever since the inception of the Toronto Port Authority in the 90s. The then federal government of Jean Chretien underwent a re-assessment of the country’s ports, wanting to maintain control only over those that were financial viable. Any that weren’t were to be handed back to the municipalities where they were located. Which is where Toronto’s port was headed until a late minute amendment by two local Liberal MPs, Dennis Mills and Tony Ianno, was added and the TPA was formed and the port and its property remained in federal hands.

No satisfactory reason for the change has ever been provided, adding to the furtive nature of the beast on the lake. One of the first moves the TPA made after it was formed was to sue the city for land that had been given to it by the federal government in the new port act. Take a moment to let that sink in. A federal agency sues a local government over land that the federal government had granted to the local government?!? The TPA backed Porter Airlines suit against the city when Mayor David Miller swept to power and overturned the previous council’s decision to allow a bridge to the airport. It is recalcitrant in paying taxes it owes the city. Basically, the TPA is a bad neighbour.

According to CommunityAIR, since the formation of the TPA in 1999, the city has doled out some $27 million to cover operational losses of the airport. Again, stop and let this sink in. The city is handing over money to a federal agency that was supposed to be financially self-sufficient. In a 2002 report that the TPA commissioned, the only solution to becoming financially self-sufficient was through an expansion of the airport which they have done, little by little, brick by brick, under the cover of darkness.

What it ultimately the most bothersome to me about the whole thing is that some people I know and like and who seem reasonable in every other sort of way, love flying Porter Air. “How can you pass up the convenience?” they’ll ask. “It’s such a pleasant experience compared to going all the way out to Pearson and being treated like cattle.” “They serve free liquor on board!”

It seems that, at least when it comes to flying, our democratic ideals and notions of participatory government can be purchased on the cheap. For a tiny bottle of airplane liquor and a little extra leg room, we’ll happily shrug our shoulders and give a pass to those determined to fleece government coffers and ignore the rule of law. Who knew it would be that easy?

submitted by Urban Sophisticat