Toronto Mayor Rob Ford received a “high-level” briefing on Porter Airlines’ controversial plans to transform the city’s downtown airport into a national hub two months before the official announcement.
Porter Airlines chief executive officer Robert Deluce met privately with Mr. Ford on Feb. 12 and again on March 19 with officials in the mayor’s office to discuss the company’s plan to buy jets capable of long-haul flights and extend the island airport’s runway.
The meetings were not included in the city’s lobbyist registry. In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail on Thursday, a Porter Airlines spokesman blamed the omission on an “administrative oversight,” and said the registry has since been updated.
Mr. Deluce said he gave the mayor just enough details to give him a sense of what was coming.
“We said we had found the right aircraft and it could operate from the airport,” he said in an interview. “And if we needed any runway extension, it would be minimal.”
Porter Airlines said on Wednesday that it has conditionally purchased up to 30 Bombardier CS100 jets and wants to overturn a jet ban at the airport and extend the runway 168 metres into the water at each end.
The plan must be approved by the city, the federal government and the Toronto Port Authority. The tripartite agreement governing the airport bans jets.
Porter faces an uphill battle. Only seven councillors either support the plan or are leaning in favour of it, according to an informal tally by The Globe. Seventeen oppose or are leaning in that direction and nine are undecided.
Councillor Peter Milczyn, chairman of the city’s planning and growth management committee, said he does not think there is any appetite to reopen the agreement among the city, the federal government and the Port Authority.
“Everybody is happy Porter Airlines is doing exceptionally well,” Mr. Milczyn told reporters. “It is a great airline. They have the means to expand, just not with jets.”
Mr. Ford, who told reporters he talked to Mr. Deluce “a few days ago,” is among the supporters.
“I don’t see, really, what the downfall is,” Mr. Ford said. “This is great. We’re creating jobs. Porter’s been a huge asset to the city.”
Mr. Deluce said his February meeting with Mr. Ford in his office at city hall lasted about 15 to 20 minutes. “It was really brief,” he said. “It was really high-level.”
Many councillors, by contrast, were in the dark about the airline’s plans until its showy announcement this week.
The Globe interviewed several councillors on Thursday, all of whom expressed surprise that they were not told in advance about a plan that cannot go ahead without their approval.
“I’m not happy about the fact that somebody wouldn’t have notified me,” said Councillor Frank Di Giorgio. “I should have got a heads up.”
Mr. Di Giorgio is among seven councillors who responded to an invitation from Porter Airlines to tour its operation at the island in recent months. He and his colleague, Councillor John Parker, visited Porter on Jan. 31.
Mr. Di Giorgio said there was no mention during the one-hour tour by Mr. Deluce or other Porter executives about expanding beyond the cities the airline was already serving.
“Because of the nature of the invitation, I didn’t, at the time, view it as someone lobbying me,” he said.
Nevertheless, Porter included this and several other meetings on the lobbyist registry: Mr. Deluce met with Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother, on Jan. 14; with Councillor Gary Crawford and on Feb. 12 and with three councillors on Dec. 14 – Karen Stintz, Doug Holyday and Mr. Milczyn.
Under the city by-law governing lobbying, an individual who fails to register their activities can face a substantial fine.
“The growth plans that we announced [Wednesday] were not part of the discussions at those meetings,” Mr. Deluce said.
Ms. Stintz said Mr. Deluce telephoned her on Monday to tell her Porter would be making an announcement about introducing new routes, but did not mention anything about jets or extending the runway.
“That’s not a discussion I think we need to have,” she said in an interview.
Mr. Parker said Porter’s conditional deal with Bombardier is premature. “Right off the bat,” he said, “that strikes me as a teeny bit cheeky.”
With files from Sunny Dhillon Jessica Chin and Elizabeth Church
An informal tally of how city councillors feel about the expansion of the Island Airport, based on interviews and their Twitter activity:
Pro or leaning in favour
- Doug Ford (Ward 2-Etobicoke North)
- Mayor Rob Ford
- Paul Ainslie (Ward 43- Scarborough East)
- Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35- Scarborough Southwest)
- Frank Di Giorgio (Ward 12 York South-Weston)
- Michael Thompson (Ward 37 Scarborough Centre)
- Norm Kelly (Ward 40 Scarborough-Agincourt)
Con or leaning against
- Ana Bailao (Ward 19 Davenport)
- Janet Davis (Ward 31 Beaches-East York)
- Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38 Scarborough Centre)
- Shelley Carroll (Ward 33 Don Valley East)
- Adam Vaughan (Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina)
- Karen Stintz (Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence)
- Gord Perks (Ward 14 Parkdale-High Park)
- Pam McConnell (Ward 28 Toronto Centre-Rosedale)
- Sarah Doucette (Ward 13 Parkdale-High Park)
- Paula Fletcher (Ward 30 Toronto-Danforth)
- John Fillion (Ward 23 Willowdale)
- Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29- Toronto-Danforth)
- Gloria Lindsay Luby (Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre)
- Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32 Beaches-East York)
- Joe Mihevc (Ward 21 St. Paul’s)
- Peter Milczyn (Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore)
- Josh Colle (Ward 15 Eglington-Lawrence)
- Mike Layton (Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina)
- Jaye Robinson (Ward 25 Don Valley West)
- John Parker (Ward 26 Don Valley West)
- Raymond Cho (Ward 42 Scarborough-Rouge River)
- Gary Crawford (Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest)
- Doug Holyday (Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre)
- Josh Matlow (Ward 22 St. Paul’s)
- Ron Moeser (Ward 44 Scarborough East)
- Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34 Don Valley East)
- David Shiner (Ward 24 Willowdale)
- Mary Augimeri (Ward 9 York Centre)
- Vincent Crisanti (Ward 1 Etobicoke North)
- Mark Grimes (Ward 6 Etobicoke-Lakeshore)
- Frances Nunziata (Ward 11 York South-Weston)
- Cesar Palacio (Ward 17 Davenport)
- James Pasternak (Ward 10 York Centre)
- Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27 Toronto Centre-Rosedale)
- Anthony Perruzza (Ward 8 York West)
Editor's note: Michael Layton returned a phone call from the Globe Friday. His name has subsequently been added to the Con group.