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Don’t let Ports Toronto bully Toronto City Council

January 5, 2024

To: Members of Toronto City Council

Beware!  Ports Toronto will attempt to bully you into two quick decisions:

  • To permit it to extend Island Airport runways into Toronto harbour, and

  • To renew the City’s lease to it for an essential portion of the Airport lands.

Ports Toronto will say the Airport must close if the City doesn’t quickly agree.

We say that both decisions require a serious exploration of where the public interest lies. This letter will outline the reasons for our position.

First, some background: 

Ports Toronto has known about this safety issue ever since the Air France runway overshoot at Pearson in 2005.

Transport Canada requires that extended Runway End Safety Areas (RESAs) must be in place by 2027.

Ports Toronto is fast running out of the time needed to finance and build the required RESAs at its Island Airport.

According to Ports Toronto, they will require extensive landfill, and cost between $50 and $130 million to build.

City approval of the required filling in of harbour lands will be required. Ports Toronto has yet to present a case to the City for those approvals.

Ports Toronto will say they cannot finance the RESAs without an extension of the City’s lease to Ports Toronto, which ends in 2033, for an essential portion of the Airport lands.

Parks Not Planes welcomes a serious discussion of these issues. But City Council must not be bullied or rushed. It is essential that the exploration of the public interest gets the time it needs.

Here are the key questions we believe must be discussed: 

  • Is a failing, excessively‑noisy and polluting airport jammed into a prime recreational and residential area the best use for 215 acres of prime publicly‑owned waterfront land?

  •  Are there alternative uses for the Airport lands that enhance, rather than diminish, the public’s enjoyment of our waterfront?

  •  Is there a business case for continued operation of the Airport? Or for investing that $50‑$130 million?

Porter, notwithstanding its impressive efforts, has admitted it was failing financially at the Airport before COVID.

The number of flights at the Airport has decreased significantly, particularly as Porter increasingly focuses on long-range flights out of Pearson.

Ports Toronto promotes the economic benefits it says the Island Airport delivers. However, those economic benefits would simply shift to Pearson if the Island Airport ceases to operate. The success of the Union-Pearson Express has already shifted business from the Island Airport to Pearson.

A thorough exploration of the viability of the Island Airport is indicated before either of these decisions are made.

Ports Toronto has successfully bullied the City before:

  • The City capitulated on a deeply flawed lawsuit over a legitimate transfer of waterfront land to a City agency. The City paid over $50M to Ports Toronto over 10 years, which it has since frittered away.

  • Notwithstanding its success in the Courts, the City ultimately caved on its efforts to insist that property taxes on the Airport lands be paid on the same basis as other taxpayers pay,

Don’t let Toronto City council be bullied again.

We’d be pleased to discuss this issue at any time.

Brian Iler

for Parks not Planes

Parks not Planes is a Toronto community group. We think the public interest is best served by adding the 215 acres of Airport lands to the Island Park.

Toronto Island Airport looking south-west (1978 –1983, Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives)
Toronto Island Airport looking south-west (1978 –1983, Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives)

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