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Toronto to allow talks on expansion of Billy Bishop Airport

Robert Deluce, president and CEO of Porter Airlines, speaks in favour of a proposal to expand Billy Bishop City Airport at Toronto City Hall on Tuesday, March 25, 2014.

Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Toronto has moved one step closer to allowing jets along the waterfront, after the city's executive committee approved a proposal that opens the door to negotiations on an expansion at the Toronto Island airport.

The committee approved in a 11-1 vote Tuesday to move forward with a controversial staff report after a day of divisive debate. The proposal would allow talks over the proposed expansion, and could lead to the end of the current ban on jets.

"We're pleased," said Porter Airlines head Bob Deluce after the vote. "Getting the boat out of council today and having it go forward on a very definitive path is good news for all of us,"

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A standing-room-only crowd packed the council chamber Tuesday, with nearly 200 people hoping to speak.

Leading up to the debate, Mayor Rob Ford advocated for a speedy approval while Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly said he is working toward a an even quicker resolution on jets – rather than coming back for a vote next year, as recommended in the staff proposal.

The issue has for many months divided council and attracted both big-name supporters and opponents – the latter arguing jets would threaten revitalization along the waterfront. Tuesday's meeting was the latest step in a long debate expected to move to council in April.

Two leading mayoral candidates have already come out against the proposal. John Tory called for a fast deferral, while Olivia Chow pressed for a prompt rejection.

And a group of councillors is expected to try to impose a ban on jets at council, or "receive" the report – which would put the whole matter on the shelf.

"The only thing we're prepared to say right now is no because the information hasn't been presented to us," said Councillor Adam Vaughan, a vocal opponent of the expansion.

"It's just not going to happen in this term of council," he said. "The only way we'll even get close to considering it is if they capitulate to caps on flights, caps on passengers, they invest in infrastructure currently needed down there, and they also step up on a whole series of other fronts."

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