Saying no to the expansion of the Toronto Island Airport and introduction of jet aircrafts is the economical, ecological and socially responsible thing to do.
At present, Pearson Airport can accommodate some 33 million passengers per year with room for an additional capacity of seven million. That would still leave Pearson with a future capacity to accommodate 20 million more passengers—that’s room for 63 percent growth if need be.
What’s more, the federal government recently announced that it plans to introduce a new 8,700 acre airport on prime farmland in the Pickering area, with Ontario already committed to expanding the 407 east (again over prime farmland).
This might place Toronto and its surrounding area dead centre within reach of airports in the west, south and east. As competition grows and markets become saturated the public expenditures put into a downtown airport could quickly turn into a significant drag on the local economy threatening new investments in public transportation, infrastructure, services expansion and so forth.
Close to $2 billion in public funds has already gone into revitalizing Toronto’s much-maligned waterfront, creating tens of thousands of jobs and additional economic benefits. What’s more, the Toronto Port Authority is estimated to owe the city some $50 million related to ongoing disputes over payments in lieu of taxes.
Even though some $30 million has passed directly from federal coffers to Porter Airlines, there are lingering concerns over Porter’s questionable labour and safety practices as raised by the Canadian Office and Professional Employees union that resulted in a five-month long strike.
Paving over Lake Ontario
Doubling the capacity of Billy Bishop’s annual passengers from two million to four million would require paving over more than 400 metres of Lake Ontario in order to accommodate the Boeing 737-like CS-100 planes.
Not only would paving over the lake threaten the water quality and health of sensitive ecosystems, but the excess run-off from de-icing, fuel and waste could put wide-ranging species of birds, aquatic and wildlife in serious jeopardy.
From Blue Flag beaches to the Toronto Islands and sensitive hydrological lands on the nearby Oak Ridges Moraine and Niagara Escarpment, the introduction of jet aircrafts is a major threat to the region’s ecology.
For decades the GTA has been locked into a low-density, automobile-dependent suburban growth dynamic. Expensive low-density infrastructure puts upward pressures on tax rates, raising residential and commercial costs and impeding the flow of goods and services.
If left unchecked this could pose major problems related to urban sprawl over the next 30 years as more than 1,000 square kilometres of land would need to be developed to meet projected population influxes of more than three million. Taking climate change seriously means reducing, not increasing, fuel usage and the duplication of expensive infrastructure.
Ontario’s auto dependency
Between 1986 and 2001 the province has seen a 53 percent increase in the supply of new roads and 38 percent growth in new highways. But transit ridership over the last two decades in the form of annual passengers per capita declined in all regions across the Greater Golden Horseshoe with the exception of Peel.
Ontario residents are amongst the most automobile dependent in the country. In 2006, 71 percent of workers in the Toronto census metropolitan area got to work by car, while only 22 percent used public transit.
It has been estimated that congestion costs the Golden Horseshoe more than $6 billion annually as automobile-dependent urban sprawl increases air pollution, congestion along trade corridors and greenhouse gases resulting in Ontario having the highest ground-level ozone concentrations in the country.
Health impacts of expansion
A 2006 study by the City of Toronto found that five common air pollutants contribute to about 1,700 premature deaths and 6,000 hospital admissions in Toronto each year. Toronto’s former Medical Officer of Health Barbara Yaffe made clear that “these premature deaths and hospital admissions are preventable and likely would not have occurred when they did without the exposure to air pollution.”
Jet aircrafts contain exorbitant amounts of black carbon, ultrafine particles and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which would increase the chronic health effects associated with ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide raising the likelihood of asthma attacks, cancers, high blood pressure, lung and heart disease, and reduce overall life expectancy.
What’s more, expansion of the Toronto Island airport would add more than one million extra vehicles, increasing gridlock, GHG emissions and placing additional stresses on crumbling infrastructure. With the Union-Pearson railway link set to open in 2015, this would put Toronto’s airport train travel time ahead of places like New York, Paris, Tokyo, Beijing and San Francisco.
Leaving aside the entire lease history in which this area was supposed to be zoned as a public trust, regrettably the City of Toronto is trying to take advantage of wishful economic rents and spillover benefits that a Downtown Airport is alleged to provide.
What impact this would have on revenues diverted from other airports is an open question, as is the impacts it would have on other businesses in the city and its residents who would then have to deal with its aftereffects.
The state-corporate nexus
An expanded Billy Bishop Airport is hardly a messiah for governments. Journalists have already uncovered the close connections between Porter Airlines, corporate lobbyists and City Hall.
From CEO Robert Deluce’s rule-breaking visits to Mayor Ford’s office and maximum campaign donations to a who’s who trade delegation to Chicago made up of conservative luminaries like Mike Harris, Ernie Eves, Bay Street law firm lawyer and fundraiser Ralph Lean, and strategist Nick Kouvalis—co-chaired and paid-for Porter Airlines—the ties that bind these stalwarts are plenty.
At present, Billy Bishop contributes about 0.1 and 0.4 percent to Ontario and Toronto’s GDP. Rather than allow thinly-veiled conglomerations of moneyed and politically connected elites to determine the economic, ecological and social welfare of Toronto and surrounding areas, on December 16 Toronto city council, residents and the 17 million annual visitors to the waterfront should send a loud and clear message of no to the expansion of Billy Bishop Airport.
Carlo Fanelli is an instructor and post-doctoral research fellow in the Department of Politics and Public Administration, Ryerson University. He maintains a blog at www.carlofanelli.org and can be found on Twitter @carlofanelli.