The host city for Canada's largest airport is trying to use the possibility of a major new transit facility there as a bargaining chip to address grievances going back years, a tactic the airport operator dismissed as "political posturing."
Mississauga's rift with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, which runs Pearson International Airport, to the west of Toronto, deepened with a recent city council motion stopping future talks on the transit station.
"It's time we put our foot down," said Mississauga Councillor Carolyn Parrish, who introduced the motion.
In an interview Monday she cited a number of issues, including the amount of money the airport pays in lieu of taxes and arguments over development and stormwater charges. Her motion specifies that there be "no further discussions or co-operation" between her city and the GTAA on the transit facility until a broader agreement on these and other outstanding issues "has been negotiated and approved."
The GTAA has been shopping around an idea for a major transit hub at the airport. It would be served by multiple transit lines, many of which do not currently exist. The idea has received expressions of support from various politicians and the request for proposals process is moving forward. But the ultimate price tag and timeline of the project, if it happens, remain unclear.
The city has little leverage over this proposal. Such a facility would be built on airport lands and not require Mississauga's approval. If the facility does happen, local municipalities will decide which transit lines will serve it. And while Ms. Parrish mentioned the possibility of stopping her city's Miway buses from connecting to it, she acknowledged it would be "cutting off our nose to spite our face" to do so.
Hillary Marshall, a spokeswoman for the GTAA, said that the authority had already signalled its willingness to tackle early next year the broader issues raised by council, and suggested that the timing of the city motion indicated grandstanding.
"This motion … is surprising, given that that there are no discussions currently under way about the transit centre," she said, adding that the city's move was "political posturing and pre-election politics."
Pearson airport is Canada's busiest, serving 44 million passengers in 2016. The airport sprawls over 4,400 acres of federal land that was leased to the GTAA in 1996 for a 60-year term. One-third of the way through the lease, the memorandum of understanding with the City of Mississauga that it called for remains unsigned.
Ms. Parrish, in both her motion and Monday's interview, said that the city had long-standing beefs with the GTAA, and hopes that the authority's dream of building a new transit facility had given her city another card to play.
"You know the carrot and the stick?" she said. "We've never had a stick before."
The councillor acknowledged the political element to her motion. To get more money from the GTAA, she argued that higher levels of government have to intervene to make the system fairer. And with a provincial election next year and a federal one the year after that, she is hoping that these other governments will pay attention. Above all, she wants the GTAA "reined in."
"It's almost like the Vatican in Rome," Ms. Parrish said. "The GTAA views itself as a separate autonomous country in the middle of Mississauga."
A spokesman for the federal Infrastructure Minister said that Ottawa's role in a possible new Pearson transit facility would be to pick up part of the cost of new transit lines heading to it. These projects would be identified by the local municipalities as priorities and federal contributions are unlikely to be affected by the war of words in Southern Ontario.