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Pickering airport? Unneeded, unwanted, but not unthinkable Add to ...

What were you doing on that historic moment when every sentient dreamer in the land fell into a pseudo-religious trance in front of their television sets and suddenly began believing again?

I was chatting with a community organizer, Bonnie Littley of Pickering, about the imminent threat of federal infrastructure. Her grassroots message on that score is to be careful about what you believe in, it just might come true.

"My inklings are up," she reported. Rumours that local MP and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will approve construction of a new international airport in Pickering as part of next week's expected fiscal stimulus package are too hot to ignore. In the underdog world of community organizing, expecting the worst is merely prudent - "due diligence," as they say in the corridors of power.

So Ms. Littley did what she could in her capacity as new town councillor: She drafted a motion repudiating construction of the long-planned federal airport and saw it pass unanimously.

"To go forward without a business case in this economic climate would be a complete waste of federal tax dollars," she said. Indeed it is impossible to imagine any "infrastructure" being more retrograde in every sense than the Pickering airport. Not a single elected official east of Yonge Street wants it.

But that hardly rules it out. On the contrary, this is the same terrain the same local MP has already blessed with an equally unnecessary new rail service. The proposed Flaherty flier to Peterborough, the plum Mr. Flaherty pulled out of his last fiscal pie, will run straight through the middle of the 7,530 hectares expropriated almost 40 years ago for the purpose of building a second airport in Toronto - and still waiting, all but empty.

With an expanded Pearson airport currently operating at about 60 per cent of its design capacity of 54 million passengers a year, the Pickering airport is even less necessary than it was in 1971. Montreal's disastrous Mirabel airport, conceived and built in the same era as the Pickering expropriation, is its twin. Say no more.

But don't rule anything out. When Ajax-Pickering Liberal MP Mark Holland asked Durham Region chair Roger Anderson to forward a list of local "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects to Ottawa this month, "Federal Airport in Pickering" was at the top of the list, in a special category all its own.

"This is a longer term infrastructure project but its' [sic]approval is vital for sustained economic growth in Durham," the letter declared.

Below the top priority, in smaller type, he presented the "original list" of needed infrastructure already forwarded to Ottawa.

The surprise emergence of a new top priority inspired Ms. Littley to fear and council colleague Rick Johnson, who ran unsuccessfully for the Conservatives against Mr. Holland in the last federal election, to scoff.

"I don't think they'd be stupid enough to do it," Mr. Johnson said of his Ottawa colleagues, dismissing the sudden new priority as political gamesmanship intended to taunt Mr. Holland. The estimated $2-billion needed to build "another Mirabel in Pickering" would be better invested in "high rail," according to Mr. Johnson, "moving people from Windsor to Ottawa through high-rail speed train."

But not before the Confederation-era rail bed of the proposed Flaherty Flier to Peterborough is rebuilt so it can handle train speeds above 50 kilometres an hour.

At heart, Mr. Holland is as skeptical about a new Pickering airport as his opponent. But you never know. "They've done some pretty boneheaded things in the past, so I don't rule it out as a possibility," he said.

Although it surprised every other politician in the region, he added, Mr. Anderson's nomination of the airport did serve one vital purpose: "It gives the government the cover to say this is the No.1 project for Durham Region."

Brace for impact, believers.

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