Toronto city council has opened the door to talks that could pave the way for jets at the island airport, though a final decision will not come until next year at the earliest.
After months of divisive debate at City Hall, councillors voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with formal talks on a proposed airport expansion. But, as they did with the similarly controversial Gardiner Expressway decision last month, councillors chose to push the final decision on jets until next year – to be voted on by a new council, and all but guaranteeing the airport will become an election issue.
Porter Airlines head Robert Deluce called the decision Tuesday a victory, telling reporters afterwards "that was a strong vote there. I hadn't anticipated that it would be anywhere near that high, but when you get a 44-0 vote, that's a very positive sign."
Porter Airlines would like to have the runway extended at the airport, allowing it to fly the CS100 off the island, in addition to the Q400 turbo-prop they use now. To do this, the runway would have to be lengthened by 400 metres – extended at both ends – and the ban on jets repealed.
The controversial issue has been the subject of a ferocious lobbying campaign by both sides and opponents and proponents packed the chamber for Tuesday's debate. Tempers grew frayed at times, with one person ejected for interrupting Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti and calling him an idiot.
Tuesday's decision was reached only after a number of amendments were added in an attempt to limit the scope of the proposal. One approved motion prevents the airport from seeking federal funding through the Build Canada Fund for required infrastructure upgrades. Other amendments required further study of the proposal's impact on health impacts, as well as bird populations. And the staff report had already laid out noise and traffic conditions for the airport to meet before moving forward with an expansion.
Because of these restrictions, even opponents of the airport expansion claimed victory Tuesday evening.
"They wanted jets, and today we clearly heard that council is not ready to say yes to it no matter how much money is spent on lobbying or multimillion-dollar campaigns," said Anshul Kapoor, chair of No Jets T.O.
And Councillor Pam McConnell, who successfully amended the proposal to spell out specifically that talks would not "in any way imply city council's support for or against the airport expansion or the introduction of jets," said the negotiations will allow the city more time to gather answers. "We didn't have enough information today to approve the jets," she said.
Earlier Tuesday, Councillor Doug Ford told reporters that opponents of the expansion would try to "cloud" the issue.
"They are going to throw on amendments all over the place and you just have to make sure you are voting on the right amendment because they're sneaky," he said. "They put the poison pill in that you don't realize that kills the deal, so you've got to be very careful with these guys. "
After the vote, Councillor Adam Vaughan – a vocal opponent of the airport expansion – said he was confident the amendments would prevent any future expansion or jets on the waterfront.
"There's enough poison in those motions to kill two airports," he said.