Pave through a park? Port bunch may do that

By Frank Touby –

The Downtown community council of Toronto city council recently voted to reduce traffic to the Island airport’s ferry dock from Queen’s Quay West to the water from five lanes to just two to improve neighbourhood pedestrian safety. There are two schools across from huge Little Norway Park and child safety is a concern. Such community council decisions in the new Toronto are legal and binding.

But the Toronto Port Authority (TPA), which owns the airport, and is widely viewed as a federal pork barrel for—in this case—Harper government loyalists, might have a way to strike back or hold the park for ransom to get the city to back down on its roadway plans.

In 1994, for a token payment of $10, Councilor Kyle Rae on behalf of the city council executive signed over an easement to the feds enabling them to run a 100-foot-wide roadway through the park, wiping out the historic Little Norway memorial and the baseball diamond, running south from Queen’s Quay West, and reducing by a third the park which serves thousands of residents and visitors. The city seemingly gains nothing from its apparent generosity, but is subject to further expenses on behalf of TPA in the future should certain events take place that are not of the city’s making.

The easement allows TPA to build a bridge, a driveway and a tunnel from its waterfront dock to Queen’s Quay West, though it’s not required to build anything at its discretion. And at the TPA annual general meeting last month chief executive Lisa Raitt said there are “no plans” to exercise the easement right. Which is no guarantee of anything except that crafty Raitt shunted the issue off to another day.

But the bargain-basement easement becomes a bargaining chip with the park as hostage.

Some top city staff members, seeming turncoats, tried to convince community council to go along with TPA’s plans for Lower Bathurst rather than what the community wanted. They were rebuffed, much to their surprise, after having presented such studied arguments in favor of the port authority’s desires.

Porter Airlines, which operates what critics call a little-used air service from the airport, has dreams of many more noisy propjet flights in and out of the Island airport soon with new permission to enter the U.S. market.

Raitt says TPA will seek another air carrier if Porter crashes. Airline industry expert Mark Hill, who helped found and wrote the business plan for West Jet, says a major carrier would only be interested in the Island airport to compete against a smaller carrier based there, most likely on a strategy of predatory pricing to eliminate the competition.