Parks not Planes letter to The Honourable Omar Alghabra, Minister of Transport. January 5, 2022.
Congratulations on your reappointment as Minister of Transport. 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 215 acres of airport lands into a spectacular Waterfront Park.
We were encouraged to read your Mandate Letter from the Prime Minister and hope to work with you and your government to achieve the objectives outlined in the letter.
As your Mandate Letter says, “Building a cleaner, greener future will require a sustained and collaborative effort from all of us.”
Action on Climate Change
Members of our group strongly support the government’s effort to reduce the threat of climate change.
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.
Shockingly, rather than working to reduce aviation’s contribution to climate change, Ports Toronto (Toronto Port Authority) is planning an expansion of the airport’s business. 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.
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 in 2023. We believe all expansion of the airport should be stopped, but if nothing else, it should be curtailed until the air quality study is published and the community can evaluate their findings.
We Support High Frequency Rail
We were pleased 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, 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 stated plan to achieve a 40 to 45 per cent reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2030.
Opportunity for a Grand New Park
We were pleased to read this, in the Mandate Letter to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change
“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 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.
A recent City of Toronto report on parks 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.
If the 215 acres of the Island Airport lands was converted to a park on or before the expiry of the City lease for a portion of those lands on June 30, 2033, it would do much to meet that need for parkland. The 215 acres, with the Toronto Island Park, would add up to 800 acres of public park open to all citizens – as large as New York city’s Central Park. This land is a spectacular property with beaches and sightlines of the city, the waterfront, and Lake Ontario.
This will transform the airport lands into a magnificent park on our waterfront — an icon demonstrating to the world that Toronto promotes the quality of life of its people and protects and enhances the natural world. A park on the airport lands would symbolize your Mandate Letter’s direction to take “bold, concrete action to build a healthier, more resilient future.”
Some members of Parks not Planes are in close contact with the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, the indigenous group that lived in the Toronto region before the arrival of the Europeans. They have expressed an interest in having a presence on Toronto Island. This could be the location of an aboriginal arts and cultural centre, a venue for pow‑wows 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.
Finally, we were pleased that priority is given, in your Mandate Letter to the long‑delayed Ports Modernization Review. Some members of Parks not Planes have had extensive experience dealing with the Toronto Port Authority. We are volunteers who have dedicated much time and energy to transforming the Island Airport lands into something more beneficial to the City of Toronto. Too often, this has brought us into conflict with the Port Authority.
The fundamental reason for this conflict has been that the Port Authority has interpreted its mandate narrowly, as the development and promotion of an airport for the best interests of its primary tenant, Porter Airlines. Over the years it has never contemplated any other uses. This is inappropriate. The 215 acres of prime waterfront land are publicly‑owned and the public interest should be the prime consideration in determining their use. [This argument is developed in this 2018 submission from our sister organization, CommunityAIR.]
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.
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.
for Parks not Planes
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
The Hon. Steven Guilbeault, Minister of the Environment & Climate Change
Toronto Liberal MPs