The Chairman Speaks – Part Two

By Friday, October 18, 2013 0 No tags Permalink 0

As Chairman McQueen’s Toronto Region Board of Trade presentation makes quite clear, he will be regaling his audience on Monday, October 21 with the economic miracle that is the soon-to-be jetport on the waterfront.

The port authority paid InterVISTAS an unknown sum for the economic impact study to convince the world what a money-spinner the island airport is and by implication how much it would benefit the GTA region as a jetport.  That’s the study that looked at the March Break travel month in 2012 and extrapolated the month’s operations in order to draw conclusions for the year.

Who is InterVISTAS?

InterVISTAS started out as the marketing & planning department of the Vancouver International Airport Authority. The department was so good at selling airports, it was spun off as a new company to provide consulting services to the industry.  Two years after the spin-off, the employees bought the company, called it InterVISTAS and never looked back.  It’s no wonder that the port authority hired an outfit like InterVISTAS with people like Brendan Sewill around.

Who Is Brendan Sewill?

Brendon Sewill is a graduate of Cambridge University in England in economics.  He’s a vice president of the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers and a member of the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s national executive.  He has been an adviser in HM Treasury and to the British Bankers Association.  However, there doesn’t seem to be anything about marketing in his background.  His books are available here.

Brendan Sewill’s pamphlet Airport Jobs: False Hopes, Cruel Hoax for the UK’s Aviation Environment Federation website takes issue with the lengths that airport proponents go to justify building or expanding airports.

Mr. Sewill makes the following points, amongst others.

  • Airports and airlines tend to exaggerate the number of jobs that airport expansion creates to suit their own commercial purposes.
  • An airport’s employment forecasts are little better than guesses designed to influence local councillors and planners.
  • Aviation tourism can actually cost jobs if more residents vacation out of country than foreign tourists vacation in the country.
  • Claims that airports create ‘indirect’, ‘induced’ and ‘catalytic’ jobs are based on dubious statistical concepts.

Who Is Erin Weir?

Closer to home, Erin Weir has his take on the port authority’s economic impact study in particular.  Mr. Weir is an economist with the United Steelworkers Union’s Canadian national office and a frequent guest on the Business News Network and other TV channels.  He has over a dozen published academic articles to his credit.  As with Mr. Sewill, Mr. Weir doesn’t seem to have a marketing background.

In his on-line article, Grounding the Toronto Island Airport’s $1.9 Billion Claim, Mr. Weir questions several of InterVISTAS’ assertions.  He especially wonders about the study’s confusion between annual GDP and annual economic output as cited in the executive summary.  As he points out, annual Gross Domestic Product measures annual economic output.  Could this be a dubious statistical concept that Mr. Sewill warns against?

Both Mr. Weir and Mr. Sewill call attention to cons to consider when conducting an economic study.  Mr. Sewill cites the possibility of lost tourist dollars; for Mr. Weir, it’s the displacement of economic activity from an airport already available for jets – Pearson.

A concept that seems lost on the port authority is that a study investigates and analyses a subject.  As such it will look at both the positive and negative aspects of its focus and weigh them.  When the port authority’s economic impact study looks at only the purported positives of the airport, it’s a study in name only.  As it stands, it’s more like a marketing tool.

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