There does not seem to be an exaggeration too big for Councillor Doug Ford to make, an invention too outlandish, a claim too bogus. He seems entirely comfortable wearing any of those suits. There’s heightened rhetoric and then there’s Councillor Doug Ford.
As the island airport issue once more pushed its way to the front of the municipal discussion this week, the councillor stood head-and-shoulders above anyone else when it came to outright mendacity. No small feat, given there are masters of that particular trait at play in the debate. But Councillor Ford took it to an entirely different level.
“If we didn’t have Bob Deluce [president of Porter],” the councillor claimed, “there’d be a cornfield out at the airport right now.”
Yes, before Porter Airlines, the islands were little more than an empty wasteland of agriculture. As if that would be a bad thing if it was true. However, it isn’t. Unless of course we go back to a pre-European settlement era when First Nations people grew their maize. But I’m not even sure that’s true.
There was a-plenty going on over at the spot the airport now occupies on the island. Scan through the photos from the City of Toronto Archives that Jude MacDonald pointed me in the direction of. Ballparks. General stores. Summer cottages. Diving horses. This particular batch of pictures ranging in dates from the late 19th-century to 1944.
It’s not the overwhelming degree of ignorance that has become so grating, it’s the boastful, barker manner in which Councillor Ford so confidently displays it. There’s a shocking degree of pathology at work. It would be funny in its cartoonish quality if it wasn’t so disruptive to the political discourse.
We are headed for yet another knock `em down-drag `em out tussle over the fate of Porter Airlines and, perhaps, the airport itself. The rhetoric white hot. Councillor Ford has already taken it to another level. His Forghorn Leghorn act skewing the debate into ridiculous territory. Any councillor and other decision maker siding with him needs to do so carefully, in case the dirt of pure hucksterism rubs off onto them.
From the swirl of traffic that engulfed our post last week about the Toronto Port Authority and Porter Air came this little gem from a blog in Friday’s National Post. Apparently, Air Canada has filed suit against Porter and the TPA in its ongoing battle to resume flying out of the island airport. Blogger Peter Armstrong tsk tsks these strong arm tactics by AC.
To suggest it laughable in the extreme that anyone would portray Porter Air as the ‘David’ in a David and Goliath battle is, in itself, more than laughable in the extreme. Laughable to the infinity only begins to hint at the absolute absurdity of the comparison. The only way that the litigiously prone Porter Air’s Robert Deluce with his friends in high places could be perceived as the ‘David’ in a David and Goliath struggle would be in a struggle with an actual Goliath. And then only if his first name was David rather than Robert.
This story would be exceedingly funny to island airport opponents, drenched in life affirming irony as it is, if not for the ominous implications of the lawsuit. Clearly, Air Canada wants back at the table to fly out of the airport again. The fact that its regional partner, Jazz Air, agreed to buy 15 Bombardier Q400 airplanes in mid-February – Porter Air’s turboprop aircraft of choice – lends credence to AC’s designs. Once a second company is flying out of the island airport how far behind will a 3rd be? Come on down, WestJet!
With that, the dream of shutting down the airport at best or keeping it small, local and for medical emergencies at worst will be dead for those fervent Goliaths who’ve been waging war against the diminutive Davids of Porter Air and the TPA for over a decade now. Airport expansion will take root and there’ll be no turning back. Unless of course, flying out of the airport turns out to be as economically unfeasible as it was for the likes of City Express, Air Ontario and Air Canada Jazz when they all previously operated from the airport.
This whole tale is a head scratching curiosity when considering the state of the airline business in the rest of the world. Europe has been wracked recently with strikes by pilots and air traffic controllers who are battling austerity measures being introduced in the face of continued recessionary pressures throughout Europe and billions of dollars in losses for the airline industry over the last couple years. An uptick in business for the U.S. for airline industry is not causing an outpouring of optimism there.
Yet here in Toronto, it is all systems go with a $50 million dollar expansion in the works on the island and airlines clamoring for space to start servicing it. Should we take this as a sign of a strong economy recovery in the works for us here? Or is it just a corporate pissing match whose only loser is bound to be local democracy?
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?