For decades now, a kind of guerrilla war has been waged on Toronto's waterfront. The battlefield is the Toronto island airport. Opponents say it blights the waterfront experience to have planes buzzing in and out all day. The airport should be closed. Proponents say a downtown airport is a great asset for the city. The airport should be expanded.
The proponents have the right of it. A downtown airport is a boon for business travellers, who can avoid the trek to suburban Pearson International when making short-hop trips to destinations such as Ottawa. Toronto is the nation's business and financial hub. Having such easy access to its downtown is an excellent selling point for the country's biggest city as it competes with other business centres.
The noise issue is overblown. The planes that fly to the island are turbo-props, not jets, and they have to abide by government noise restrictions. In any case, Toronto is a metropolis, not a country village. A little hustle and bustle is part of the urban experience. If people are bothered by the sight and sound of a few planes flying in and out of the island -- a dramatic rather than a disturbing thing to see -- they should go live in Wawa.
Mayor David Miller says that expanding the airport would get in the way of his plans to spruce up the neglected waterfront. When a local businessman announced plans to run a short-hop airline out of the island with up to 20 new Bombardier planes, Mr. Miller said, "You have to make a choice: Do you want an industrial or a revitalized waterfront?"
No such choice is necessary. The modest expansion required to accommodate the airline -- a new ferry to the island, some small terminal buildings -- hardly constitutes the industrialization of the waterfront. It would do nothing to prevent governments from going ahead with the new parks, walkways and other amenities they have planned. On the contrary, a fixed-up airport would help bring much-needed vitality to the area.
It would also create jobs, both in the building of the airport infrastructure and in the manufacture of the planes. The Canadian Auto Workers union says the $500-million order for new planes is worth several hundred jobs at the Bombardier plant in the north Toronto neighbourhood of Downsview.
Mr. Miller has asked the incoming government of Conservative prime-minister-designate Stephen Harper to intervene by turning over the pro-airport Toronto Port Authority to the city. That is the last thing Mr. Harper should do. The authority has been the only thing standing in the way of the overheated anti-airport campaign waged by Mr. Miller, federal NDP Leader Jack Layton, Toronto councillor (now NDP MP) Olivia Chow and others.
"I will continue to fight for the revitalization of the waterfront," Mr. Miller vows. Fine. Let him do that. After years of empty talk, it is time to move ahead with waterfront renewal. But those plans should include the renewal of an excellent little asset: the island airport.