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Opportunity for a grand new park in Toronto

Parks not Planes letter to The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change. January 5, 2022.

Porter Airlines plane landing at the Toronto Island Airport

Congratulations on your appointment as Minister of Environment and Climate Change. This is an important position in the Canadian Government.

Parks not Planes is a Toronto community group. We advocate for the closure of the Island (Billy Bishop Toronto City) Airport and turning the airport lands into a spectacular Waterfront Park.

Opportunity for a Grand New Park in Toronto

We were pleased to read this, in the Mandate Letter to you from the Prime Minister:

“To ensure all Canadians have access to green space, establish at least one new national urban park in every province and territory, with a target of 15 new urban parks by 2030.”

A new federal park on the 215 acres of airport land, in the heart of Toronto, the largest city in the country, would be a highly visible example of a new national urban park and the government’s commitment to fight climate change. It would be a symbol – an icon – of new directions the government is taking to deal with our environmental challenges.

The Island Airport is located on Toronto Island about one kilometre from the business district of the city. Toronto’s waterfront, adjacent to the airport, is being transformed into residential neighbourhoods with office buildings and parks. To the south and west of the airport is Lake Ontario and to the east is Toronto Harbour. The airport lands are a spectacular property with beaches and sight lines of the city, the waterfront, and Lake Ontario.

The airport lands can be converted into a park at a relatively low cost. They are already publicly owned.

Converting the airport lands into a park would greatly help to resolve a serious lack of parks for people living in the downtown. A recent City of Toronto report pointed out that the city’s downtown core is more deficient in parkland than any other neighbourhood in the city. The population in the core is now approximately 300,000 people. Many new residential high-rise buildings are under construction, and more are in the planning stages. That will bring even greater numbers of people to live downtown in the future.

Residents of multi-unit buildings have little access to private green space and rely on parks for recreation, but there is very little parkland available in the downtown core. The 215 acres could be added to the Toronto Island Park to create 800 acres of public park open to all citizens – larger than New York City’s Central Park.

Creating a park on the airport lands would open many new opportunities for recreation, cultural and public education about the natural world.

Some members of Parks not Planes are in close contact with the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, the indigenous people who lived in the Toronto region before the arrival of Europeans. They have expressed an interest in having a presence on Toronto Island. Perhaps this could be the location of an aboriginal arts and cultural centre, a venue for powwows as well as a place for everyone to enjoy. A park on the airport lands would be a wonderful opportunity to celebrate diversity and inclusion of all people.

We submit that a new park on the airport lands would symbolize your government’s bold new direction. The park could become an icon demonstrating to the world that Canada promotes the quality of life of its people and will work to protect and enhance the natural world.

Action on Climate Change

Closing the Island Airport would also make a major contribution to the government’s effort to reduce the threat of climate change.

Your Mandate Letter urges efforts to, “Strengthened Climate Plan, implement the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, and, by the end of March 2022, bring forward an updated Emissions Reduction Plan to achieve a 40 to 45 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels.”

What better way to demonstrate the government’s determination to achieve these goals than to close Toronto’s Island Airport? All Canadians are affected by climate change, and aviation is a significant greenhouse gas emitter.

Short haul flights, which the Island Airport exclusively provides, are the transportation sector’s worst emitters.

Increasing, Not Decreasing Flights

Shockingly, rather than working to reduce aviation’s contribution to climate change, Ports Toronto, the federal agency responsible for running the airport, is planning an expansion. Its expressed intention is to increase flights and passenger numbers by increasing the number of slots (landings + takeoffs) from 202 currently to 224 this summer and to 246 in 2023. They plan for passenger traffic to rise to 2.8 million passengers in 2023, a 60 percent increase from 2019. In addition, the Port Authority is proposing $10 million additional annual spending on pre-flight customs clearance to facilitate US flights using the Island Airport.

University of Toronto scientists are currently undertaking a two year NSERC funded air quality testing of neighbourhoods adjacent to the Island Airport. Their report is scheduled to be released before the end of 2023. We believe all expansions of the airport should be stopped, but if nothing else, they should be curtailed until the air quality study is published and we can evaluate their findings.

High Frequency Rail

We were pleased to see that your Mandate Letter prioritizes the electrified High Frequency Rail project in the Toronto to Quebec City corridor.

This has huge potential to displace much of the air travel in that corridor (and virtually all flights out of the Island Airport), as high‑speed trains have for many Europeans. That displacement will significantly reduce transportation’s impact on the climate and assist in achieving your government’s plan to achieve a 40 to 45 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels.

Opportunity for Leadership

Minister, the issue of the Toronto Island Airport is very important to members of Parks not Planes and to many, many others in the city. This is a great opportunity for the Canadian government to show leadership on the vital issues of the role of aviation in climate change, high-frequency rail, indigenous rights, and diversity.

Thank you for all of your work on our behalf to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. We sincerely hope the government will make a contribution toward that goal by closing the Island Airport and converting the lands into a magnificent park for all Canadians.

We would like the opportunity to discuss these issues with you in person. A delegation from Parks not Planes would welcome the opportunity to meet with you at your convenience.

Yours truly,

Brian Iler

for Parks not Planes


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

The Honourable Omar Alghabra, Minister of Transport

Toronto Liberal MPs

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