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Deputation to City of Toronto Infrastructure & Environment Committee

Parks not Planes deputation to City of Toronto Infrastructure & Environment Committee regarding TransformTO: Critical Steps for Net Zero by 2040. November 19, 2021

Porter Airlines plane landing at the Toronto Island Airport

1. Intro

Three of us will speak on this matter from the waterfront perspective. Bev Thorpe, and Diane Jameson, both residents of Bathurst Quay, and Brian Iler, of CommunityAIR. We are speaking today as presenters of Parks Not Planes and how the City should consider aviation greenhouse gas emissions into its roadmap for Net Zero by 2040.

2. Parks Not Planes Background

We are a new organization with representation from a number of community organizations concerned about waterfront issues, including Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood Association, York Quay Neighbourhood Association, Toronto Island Community Association CommunityAIR, NoJetsTO, and Waterfront for All.

We came together to pursue a tantalizing opportunity: The City’s one dollar per year 50 year lease to Ports Toronto of a significant portion of the Toronto Island Airport lands, expires on June 30, 2033 - less than 12 years away. There is no right of renewal. This offers the city a way to apply a climate lens into this issue.

The City’s 2019 “Parkland Strategy Report” tells us that downtown Toronto is more deficient in parkland than any other area of the city, and its population continues to grow.

We note the system of parks must expand and improve as the city continues to transform and evolve to contribute to enhancing quality of life and a thriving economy, provide better access, and ensure a resilient and sustainable environment that supports people and wildlife alike.

We submit that the 215 acres of the Island Airport lands should be converted to a park and joined or merged with the Toronto Island Park to create 800 acres of public park open to all citizens.

We support the robust and comprehensive recommendations Toronto Environmental Alliance has proposed.

3. Aviation and the Climate Crisis

Aviation is a significant and growing source of greenhouse gases.

The task of reducing and eliminating greenhouse gas emissions is an urgent one – the longer we fail to act, the harder it will be to ensure a liveable planet:

Aviation is the only mode of transportation that cannot readily convert to electrical energy. The aviation sector is stating they need to reduce their carbon footprint and are touting the potential of hydrogen fuel as an alternative energy source. However hydrogen fuel itself would be sourced from fossil fuel and requires a completely different form of expensive energy storage and safety infrastructure. Hydrogen fueled flights will not be commercially feasible by 2024 - as one flight operator hoping to fly from Billy Bishop Toronto Centre Airport recently stated. Nor would biobased fuels be a sustainable option to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions as they would be sourced from carbon intensive industrial agricultural and animal feedstocks which negates the claim of carbon neutrality.

If we are to reduce the chances of more wildfires, more heat domes, and more flooding, we need to fly a lot less and choose vastly more environmentally friendly alternatives such as the forthcoming High Frequency Rail.

4. Climate Lens

We submit that the City can, and should, lead by example, by applying a Climate Lens to each decision it makes.

Doing so will ensure that the City’s actions are consistent with the gravity of the climate crisis.

And doing so will inspire other organizations – governments, businesses, and civil society, to do likewise.

That will be particularly difficult as business interests mount campaigns to continue their polluting business as usual.

We, along with many other community organizations, want to ensure the City does not succumb to those business interests. A Climate Lens can be an effective tool in countering this pressure.

Given the significant and growing role that aviation plays in increasing the release of Greenhouse Gases, the City should:

  • ensure its employees always consider more benign alternatives to flying – video conferencing and rail travel, for example

  • ensure that all its decisions are informed by a Climate Lens

  • ensure, to the extent it has authority, that no more infrastructure investments are made in increasing the carbon load from Toronto based industries, like aviation

In the not too distant future, the City will be pressured to make a decision to renew the lease for the Island Airport. How does a Climate Lens address that?

5. Pressure Will Mount

Without a decision by the City, the existing lease will expire and the Island Airport will close.

We know that Ports Toronto is facing costs estimated at $50-$130 million to build runway end safety areas to comply with forthcoming Transport Canada safety requirements. It will say it needs to extend the lease to be able to finance that enormous cost.

Applying a Climate Lens, a public expenditure of that magnitude to support a greenhouse gas-spewing industry should not occur.

We also know that Nieuport Aviation having spent more than $700 million to buy its terminal from Porter, and having invested another $50 million in improvements, can’t possibly recoup its investment in the Island Airport without a lease renewal.

We are mystified why anyone would put that kind of money into Porter Airline’s coffers, or any other airline’s coffers, without assurance that the lease will be renewed.

We have to assume that Nieuport did its due diligence and concluded that the risk of the lease not being renewed was an acceptable risk.

6. Our Task

Our task, and the City’s, applying that Climate Lens, is to say, notwithstanding that pressure, that the City will not promote further greenhouse gas emissions, and will not renew that lease.

We submit the lease should not be renewed

  • because the need for parkland is far more important than Porter’s and Nieuport’s business operations, and

  • because the climate crisis demands it.

Such a decision would inspire similar action elsewhere, and energize the desperately needed efforts to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

for Parks not Planes

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