Pickering says no to future airport; Mayor calls voting process a “farce”

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Published April 25, 2023 at 8:54 am

Pickering Council has given the thumbs down to their support for a future airport in Pickering after a raucous meeting that included ten delegates – nine in opposition to the airport – before the issue came to a vote more than four-and-a-half hours after it began.

Pickering Mayor Kevin Ashe called the vote a “farce” and took offence with Councillor Mara Nagy, who co-authored the motion, for “breaking her word” on how the process leading up the vote went down.

Ashe did not elaborate on what promises were broken but he appeared to be expecting the main part of the motion, to withdraw Council support for the now 51 year-old idea of building a major airport on lands in north Pickering, to be deferred until after the results of an upcoming Transport Canada aviation needs study.

The first part of the motion instead went to a vote with Ashe casting the only dissenting vote by abstaining. The second part of the motion – to not spend any more tax dollars or staff resources on the proposal – also carried 6-1, with Ashe abstaining once again.

The only part of the motion that received unanimous support was part three, calling for the City to renew its support for a station near Green River in north Pickering for a proposed high-frequency rail line between Toronto and Peterborough.

The Pickering Airport Lands were expropriated in 1972 by the federal government for the purpose of building a major airport, around the same time Ottawa built Mirabel Airport in Montreal, now considered the poster for aviation ‘White Elephants.’ Since that time the lands in Pickering that haven’t been returned for public use have gone largely unused and are currently held by leaseholders for as little as $120 per acre in annual rent.

Ashe called the motion, brought forward by Nagy and Councillor Linda Cook, more about “special interest groups and cheap leases” and said it would “hurt” the city’s ability to attract jobs in the future.

Ashe said he hoped the aviation study to be “conclusive,” adding that it was “premature’ to bring the motion forward at Monday’s meeting.

The anti-airport public delegations, including Land Over Landing members such as Mary Delaney and Sharon Powell, were unified in their belief that it was time to stop spending any more resources on a project that ‘may never happen” and instead spend time on ideas than can, such as the high-frequency rail station.

Nagy agreed. “There comes a time when we have to put an end to tying our innovation corridor to an airport. That time is now.”

Ted Nickerson of Durham Gateway Partners was the only delegate to speak at Council in support of an airport and he talked of the economic benefits of having an airport in what could become the fifth-largest commercial district in the country.

Nickerson, who worked with the land development industry for more than a decade and with the oil sector before that said an airport could be worth as much as $10-$12 billion a year in economic benefits and create more than 60,000 jobs. His partner with Durham Gateway, Lee Parsons, helped prepare a Needs Assessment Study on the airport in 2015 with the Malone Given Parsons consulting firm.

Nickerson disagreed with the other delegates and the majority of council in declaring there IS a business case for a new airport in the GTA. “Additional capacity will be needed by 2041, that’s very clear. The actual date is still to be determined,” he said. “I think we have to wait for the new study (to be completed). If the report is favourable we want to be able to hit the ground running.”

Pickering Councillor Maurice Brenner, who has been one of the leading proponents in putting the airport dream to bed for good, said he is happy the spectre of the airport is in the rear-view mirror and put forward a notice of motion for the City to establish a ‘Centre of Excellence’ for the agricultural industry in Pickering.

“I’m looking forward to this. I think it’s a great opportunity for us.”

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