LORINC: Tory lands in middle of island airport mess

During a campaign-style drive-by in Mississauga last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, according to reports, sought out Toronto’s newly installed mayor, John Tory, for a little leaderly face-time. Harper, it seems, would sooner take a meeting with the top dog catcher from Kalamazoo than cross paths with the duly elected (majority) premier of Ontario. What’s more, Tory clearly needs Harper more than Harper needs Tory. But for the moment, we’ll have to accept the convenient fiction that the prime minister so cares about Toronto that he’s willing to take time out of his busy schedule, etc., etc.

It remains to be seen how these tête-à-têtes will play out a few months hence, when the island airport expansion scheme — currently the subject of numerous studies [PDF], plus a non-mandated environmental assessment by the Toronto Port Authority — lands again at council.

Tory, late in November, formally recused himself from council votes involving Billy Bishop Toronto City Centre Airport because his son runs an aviation company with a regional office at the facility (two of his staff were also involved with Sussex Strategy Group, a lobbying firm that had Porter Airlines as a client).

Much less clear is whether Tory is legally — or, more likely, politically — conflicted when it comes to taking public positions about the federal government’s actions regarding the future of the Toronto Port Authority.

Consider: when the Harper government tabled its omnibus budget bill in Parliament earlier this year (Bill C-43, which just passed third reading), it included several amendments to the Canada Marine Act, all of which focus on port authorities and the power of the minister to over-ride their decision-making power.

City, Waterfront Toronto, and TPA officials all know about these provisions and are said to be pondering the possible ramifications for the island airport expansion to accommodate a new breed of apparently quiet jets. But there’s been scant public discussion; indeed, the amendments didn’t come up as part of the TPA’s presentation at the runway expansion EA consultation session held last week, and my sources say that even waterfront watchers have heard little about them.

The legislation gives port authorities the right to acquire and lease federally-owned land. It also gives the minister the discretionary power to make regulations about developments in port areas — Section 64.1 (1), for those of you who are singing along — and further states that said ministerial orders “prevail” over decisions about land-use, by-laws and operations made by port authority officials, in the event of policy inconsistencies.

And lastly, this nugget: “No civil proceeding may be brought, no order may be made and no fine or monetary penalty may be imposed against Her Majesty in right of Canada or a port authority, in relation to an undertaking that is situated in a port, under regulations made under subsection 64.1(1), based on any right or interest held by Her Majesty or the port authority in that port.”

Maybe it’s all just legal housekeeping. Or not. Taken together, these Trojan Horse amendments seem to be saying that Ottawa can, if it so chooses, override what a port authority does, and not have to worry about getting sued after the fact.

Put differently: not necessarily a power grab, but a power grab if necessary.

While the amendments obviously apply to all Canadian port authorities, Liberal MP Adam Vaughan warns that these changes will allow the feds to “have a way of controlling the [Toronto port] precinct they never had before.” Little Norway Park, the Canada Malting silos and some parcels in the Portlands are all federally owned, and could theoretically be transferred to the TPA or be exempted from zoning or land use controls that council might pass to thwart the jet scheme, he adds. “They can sculpt zoning on other properties.”

How does all this legalese fit into the immensely complicated expansion assessment/evaluation process, which is looking into everything from noise and emissions to land-side impacts? From where I sit, these provisions could function like a sword of Damocles, hanging over the heads of the various decision-makers at the city and the port authority. The “may” in the bill’s wording tells the tale.

At some point in the foreseeable future, City/TPA evaluations and master plans will be complete, as will Transportation Canada’s study on the marine exclusion zones, runway lengths and so on. At that point, the feds will be in a position to say yes or no to Bombardier’s C-series jets on Billy Bishop’s possibly expanded runways. The legislative changes cited above suggest that Ottawa has discretely, but meaningfully, moved to ensure that the cabinet has more sway over the decision-making process.

Which brings us back to Mayor Tory.

As I noted in this space last week, Tory’s Smart Track financing plan, the $1 billion naturalization of the Don mouth and a massive commercial development scheme envisioned for the Unilever site are all tied up in a complicated planning waltz. Much depends on a $300 million-plus cash contribution from Ottawa to help fund the flood plain protection scheme for the lower Don, without which large-scale development in the portlands and on the Unilever site can’t proceed.

How does that piece connect to the Billy Bishop expansion? If the Unilever site is to become our Canary Wharf, it seems likely that demand for island airport flights will grow, although more among business travelers, as opposed to the mid-haul vacationers that Porter wants to serve with its Bombardier C-series jets.

In theory, the feds could use their bulked-up clout with port authorities to ensure the TPA secures federal land and imposes zoning rules that ensure there are no flight-path obstacles on the eastern end of the harbour.

But I’d say the more likely, and more worrisome, scenario involves the feds playing let’s-make-a-deal with their share of the lower Don funding — in effect using those new powers, plus the threat of withheld funding, as a kind of double-pronged stick designed to keep the talks moving briskly towards the desired conclusion.

Here’s where Tory — who, as mayor, is council’s official designate on all intergovernmental matters — will face more challenging questions about his role in this file. If GTA minister Joe Oliver, who owns the Waterfront Toronto portfolio, tells Tory that the lower Don money comes with airport strings attached, the mayor obviously can’t just throw up his hands and say, `Well, Joe, it’s up to council to vote to amend the Tripartite Agreement or not.’

What’s more, if the feds opt to exercise those new powers in order to deliver the desired result (i.e., expansion), is Tory constrained by his declaration under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, or will he be expected to speak up on behalf of the city’s broader interests — for example, about the impact of the proposed six-metre blast deflection wall that will seriously impair pedestrian harbourfront views?

These are incredibly tough questions that will demand astute replies and a deft touch when it comes to all the political horse-trading. But for Tory, the reality is that these questions are coming, just as surely as spring follows winter.

top photo by David L


island airport blast wall

The schematic above was created by NoJetsTO, based on the data provided by the TPA in the ongoing EA scoping process. Waterfront advocate Jude MacDonald points out that the TPA has never provided ground-level images showing how pedestrians and boaters would experience the walls, the enlarged runways and the marine exclusion zone. The slides in the EA presentation show the proposed runway either from overhead or at an elevation, not from ground level, where most of us spend our days. And no one’s come up with an image showing the view from water-level in the harbour looking back at the city, with those blast deflector walls in place.


  1. As a matter of no small detail, the information provided by the TPA and shown in the illustration provided here — a six-metre wall running 1/2 a kilometre along the inner harbour — is not in fact a jet blast deflector but a noise barrier. That doesn’t make it any better, because it’s just a matter of time before the TPA drops the other shoe: we would get a jet blast barrier, as well as a noise barrier. In fact, such barriers at BOTH ENDS of the runway.

    Such barriers will be needed to contain jet blast created by aircraft taking off. Following the specious argument that the Marine Exclusion Zones (areas into which boats cannot venture) will not move, jets will be not much more than 100 metres from the boats, which is insane.

    So this messy picture is not complete, even yet. Not nearly complete.

  2. John, thanks for your piece today. I certainly agree that the federal government will do its best to advance Porter’s agenda for our waterfront to the detriment of everything else.

    But I don’t see these amendments to the Canada Marine Act as significant, as the federal government does not own any land on Bathurst Quay any longer.

    The TPA already has enormous authority to impose its will on everyone else, given the paramouncy of aeronautics, being federal jurisdiction, over provincial and municipal legislation, under the Constitution.

    The City owns Little Norway Park, but the TPA has the right to enforce an easement for vehicles over the eastern third of the Park. The City has asked the TPA to extinguish that easement in the past, unsuccessfully.

    The Canada Malting lands are also owned by the City. In response to a recent concern I had about back-room dealings, Glenn Gustafson, Pam McConnell’s EA, responded:

    “The City did not transfer the Malting lands to Build Toronto but simply authorized them to undertake a master planning process. A transfer of lands, which would be required for a sale, would have to go to Council. Meanwhile, City has included the Malting Lands as part of the Bathurst Quay Precinct Plan. The public meeting on that is on 10 December. We also need to remember that the silos, headhouses, and marine leg are all designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.

    “The lease on the staging (the taxi corral on Canada Malting lands) was to expire at the end of June 2015, tied to the completion of the tunnel construction. The TPA requested a 1 to 2 year extension. With the Bathurst Quay Precinct Plan underway, staff agreed to extend the lease until the end of 2015, with the consent of Councillor Ramkhalawansingh. Such an extension is delegated to staff with the consent of the local Councillor; however, because there was a sunset date on the site plan approval, Planning has to present a site plan amendment to Council, which should come to Community Council early in the New Year.”

  3. A question I do not see being asked is, “Isn’t the angle that planes are landing at now (about a 3 degree slope) too low to avoid boats at the edge of the marine exclusion zone (MEZ)?”. A separation of 20 to 50ft between plane and boat cannot be considered safe. In a 4.8 degree glide slope (current designated one for runway 26 in the harbour) the separation would be about 160ft. Under FAA regulations, US pilots cannot come within 500ft of a person vessel. The MEZ should be extended now under current conditions for reasons of safety.

  4. The previous commentator hits one nail on the head in referring to the fed’s exclusive jurisdiction over aeronautics, which puts the lie to all of Mr. Lorinc’s theorizing about obscure machinations and interconnections. When it comes to airports, folks, the fed’s can do what they like. And in the view of many of us, the sooner the better!

  5. 1) Noise barrier may not be required if CSeries is as quiet as the spec sheet.

    2) Despite what some say, this can’t be a jet blast barrier. I’d like to know how one expects an aircraft to park sideways on a taxiway to do a runup.

    3) If well designed, that barrier can be somewhat decent looking. No reason to make it completely ugly.

    4) The potential for that Unilever site is real. And Toronto would gain a lot from it. Would be nice to have our own version of London City to support it. And with this runway extension, Billy Bishop will be able to serve London City with CSeries all-business class service. There could be similar service to Vancouver and San Francisco. So it’s not just some vacationer service that’s at stake.

  6. At last week’s public meeting, the response to a question about blast walls at the end of the runway was that research of international approaches & uses are underway.

    Here’s a demonstration of what can happen without one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFP4xl0V0mk.

    Sailboats, ferries, paddle boards, water taxis, kayaks, pleasure boats, cruise ships – all clustered together in the Inner Harbour, some very close to where the jets will land on an extended runway, which we’re told will end just short of the existing Marine Exclusion Zone.

  7. And here is a company that specializes in noise barriers and jet blast deflectors: http://blastdeflectors.com

    Lots of examples of how they build to specific order, depending on the type of aircraft and location of the airport. I would imagine that whatever was installed at an expanded island airport would have to buffer jet blast that shifts in response to wind direction. Must be tricky to do when there’s water all around the narrow, purpose-built runway.

  8. Finally, not mentioned in this article – but perhaps relevant – is the federal government’s recent (re)announcement at a Pratt & Whitney plant in Mississauga.

    “Why does a highly profitable international corporation require $300-million in loans from the Canadian government? Pratt & Whitney has received so much money, so often, it is actually difficult to track precisely how much they’ve been into the trough for.”
    — Canadian Taxpayers Federation federal director Aaron Wudrick


  9. John:

    I have been following your articles on the Island Airport and the Waterfront with interest. God knows what is going on in Ottawa, but it looks like they are about to jump into Toronto politics with both feet. The Liberals, via Dennis Mills and Tony Ianno, did the same and look at the mess at the airport that they left us.

    Adam Vaughan is concerned about the Omnibus Bill, and as you report, he thinks the amendments may let them take over land. He is particularly concerned about the Canada Malting Silos because that would give the TPA the land they need to solve their parking problems.

    You say that the silos are owned by the federal government, but we don’t think so. Maps showing land ownership on the Waterfront show that the silos are owned by the city. If that’s the case, it means the TPA will not be able to take the silos using the new powers given them in the Omnibus Bill.

    The TPA does, however, have an easement over one-third of Little Norway Park. If they get desperate, they may try and use it but that would create a big controversy that might damage their attempts to expand the airport.

    Bill Freeman

  10. On page 48 of their recently released Master Plan, the TPA make it clear that expansion is existential for the airport.


    BBTCA is located within close proximity to a number of major developments along the City of Toronto waterfront. As a result, the protection surfaces associated with the Airport’s certification and Instrument Approach Procedures are at risk of penetration, which could impact the Airport’s certification, operational usability and economic viability.

    As a result, the TPA has initiated studies to work with Transport Canada, NAV CANADA and the City of Toronto to ensure that future developments located on the shores of Lake Ontario do not impact the Airport. These studies include comprehensive analysis of aeronautical protection surfaces outside of hose protected under existing Federal Airport Zoning Regulations (SOR 85-515).

    Once finalized, these revised aeronautical protection surfaces will be used by the TPA, NAV CANADA, Transport Canada and the City of Toronto to identify and discourage developments that are incompatible with the current and future operation of BBTCA.

    Full version can be found here:

  11. Jim Panou translated: the fed’s can do as they (and many of us) please, via constitutional allocation of power over aeronautics, including expropriation. Let’s roll!

  12. I think some points are well raised but in Bathurst precinct plan meeting city said Silos do belong to city, and frankly it would cost so much to tear down, they should leave it.

    I think we can all encourage our vision of what we DO want and going forward to claim it and reminding people of what they can do and be empowered. Good to know some of what is going on though too. ”
    “I awakened to the cry
    that the people / have the power
    to redeem / the work of fools
    upon the meek / the graces shower
    it’s decreed / the people rule

    The people have the power
    The people have the power
    The people have the power
    The people have the power”

  13. p.s. it takes communication that people can rightly understand and encourage people to act, call their Councillors, tell them NO! The power to dream / to rule, but we need to do this all together as I quote again from PATTI SMITH – people have the power- bring us together.
    “to wrestle the world from fools
    it’s decreed the people rule
    it’s decreed the people rule
    I believe everything we dream
    can come to pass through our union
    we can turn the world around
    we can turn the earth’s revolution
    we have the power
    People have the power …”

  14. @Jude McDonald

    Yes. Let’s avoid investing in R&D and keep proppring up an economy built on selling each other cardboard houses (exactly what the Island would become if the airport left). Your comment comes just as the reality check is about to set in. Now that oil prices are sinking, we’re about to find out how little value the Canadian economy has. First comes oil. Then comes housing.

    This whole issue goes to the heart of not just what type of waterfront we want but what type of city we want. Sooner or later, the condo boom will end. This may just happen as the big banks in the Financial District get swiped by the current commodities deflation. And when that happens, we’re going to discover that our local economy is not very diversified at all. How exactly are we supposed to support great communities then?

    Great cities have great infrastructure. And that doesn’t just mean subways and streetcars.

  15. Re: Silos
    While the silos and the malting site are identified as city owned, and clearly in the care of the city, their title is clouded by a provision that they can’t be sold without being offered back to the Federal Government. In other words the lands may be controlled by the city but they can only develop the site with federal permission. The city does not have the funds to restore or re-purpose the silos without a private sector partner. The Feds get to decide who that partner is.


  16. It isn’t that important whether Tory votes, or even speaks, on this issue. What counts is what deal-making he’ll do behind the scenes, as Lorinc suggests.

    Just look at Flaherty’s discovery of $660 million in his back pocket to cement the Frods’ unneeded Scarborough subway extension — shorter, longer to build and much more expensive than the fully funded and appropriate LRT that was ready to begin construction. Tory opportunistically backed the subway, and got Kathleen Wynne’s support in the mayoral election. (Why?) Lately it looks like Tory is holding the rest of the LRT network hostage to the Scarborough subway, and I hear that he’s grooming council to endorse this horse-trading.

    Is there any reason to think Tory Tory won’t play Let’s Make a Deal with Oliver/Harper, especially when his bias is clearly pro-jets? Maybe Dougie would have been a better choice as mayor — headline-making antics aside, he could have been ignored and politics done more in the open.

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