That stench wafting up from the waterfront these days has nothing to do with the sugar refinery. It’s coming from Billy Bishop Toronto Island Airport, where some odiferous deals are now unfolding.
Most obviously, Porter Airlines has agreed to sell its passenger terminal to a consortium led by InstarAGF Asset Management for an amount said to be as much as $650 million to $750 million.
That’s fine, except that Porter doesn’t own the land on which the terminal sits — it belongs to PortsToronto — and that the building, believed to have cost $50 million-odd to build, isn’t worth anything close to the reported sale price..
Though details have yet to be revealed — don’t hold your breath for that — it seems the only reason anyone would spend such money on so tenuous an asset is an expectation that jets will be allowed to operate at the facility.
For the time being, a tripartite agreement between the city, the federal government and the TPA restricts both the type of aircraft and the number of flights per day. That agreement expires in 2033; but before then Porter CEO Robert Deluce hopes to get permission to fly Bombardier C-Series jets to and from Billy Bishop. They will enable him to enter the tourist market and hugely expand his traffic.
Ottawa and the TPA are officially neutral, but have done nothing to stop it. That leaves the ball in the city’s court, though no one’s sure yet what that means. Local councillor Joe Cressy has made no secret of his opposition to an expanded island airport. But he’s one vote of 45.
Too bad Mayor John Tory won’t be able to provide leadership — his job, after all — because his son runs a business at the airport. That puts His Worship in a conflict of interest, which means he will have to sit on the sidelines during debate on one of the most critical issues facing Toronto.
Billy Bishop is the Spadina Expressway of our time. To paraphrase what then premier Bill Davis said in 1971 when he cancelled the expressway that would have sliced through the heart of the city: If we’re building a city for airplanes, this is a good place to start; if we’re building a city for people, it’s a good place to stop.
Before jets can use the island airport, the runway will have to be lengthened by 200 metres at both ends. That would bring it within spitting distance of Ontario Place on the west and limit marine activity in the vicinity.
So why are corporate investors so willing to ante up? Do they know something we don’t?
Their investment only makes sense if the tripartite agreement is discarded and jets are allowed into the airport. Only then will the ridiculous sums add up.
This is not an exercise in community-building, after all; it has nothing to do with the civic economy or ease of travel.
Facts about the billions spent on waterfront revitalization count for little in the face of such overwhelming greed. These are men smart enough to see an opportunity, but stupid enough to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, even when it’s theirs.