Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Federal Appointments to the Toronto Port Authority

I openly admit, I have no real opinion on the Toronto Airport, one way or the other, but somebody has some explaining to do [Globe & Mail via Google, The bird has flown: Port Authority wins]:

Transportation Minister Lawrence Cannon had appointed five new members to the largely vacant [Toronto Port Authority] board of directors. That was the definitive signal. Suddenly, the official review of the agency by former Ottawa bureaucrat Roger Tasse, which raised such hope for a fresh start on the waterfront when the Harper government announced it last May, became meaningless.


By including at least one aerospace veteran on the board -- Colin Watson, former president of two firms on which Porter president Robert Deluce has served as director -- the Harper government affirmed its commitment to the island airport. And by reserving three of the spots for out-of-town Conservative Party activists and donors, it declared loudly it has no intention of undertaking fundamental reform to a wayward agency powered by political patronage.

Who are the appointees [Canadian Newswire, Appointments to Toronto Port Authority]?:

The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, today announced the following appointments to the Toronto Port Authority's board of directors: Mr. Christopher M. Henley and Mr. Douglas Reid for terms of three years; Ms. Krista L. Scaldwell and Mr. Colin D. Watson for terms of two years; and Mr. Cameron J. Turner for a term of one year.

The comments section over at Spacing Wire supplies some details on the new board members. Google searches will show other details. In short, it seems the new board appointees favour increased airport activity while having some connection to either the federal or provincial Conservative parties. The appointment of the board members, as suggested by John Barber, is not itself a signal - the government is required to do so.

All-in-all, the differing articles suggest that the new Board and a reconfigured Toronto Port Authority commission will be used to uncover previous Liberal Party waste. Once that waste is uncovered, the TPA can be "re-molded" and that ultimately the Toronto Port Authority, via the Toronto Island Airport, could become profitable. Either way, the TPA will remain firmly entrenched federally.

I disagree with that plan for two reasons.

(1) I don't care if the Toronto Port Authority has proven to be a country club for Liberal Party supporters. I know the Liberal Party enjoyed seemingly free access to the public coffers this way across a whole pile of federal groups. What I don't need is Conservative Party supporters to use the public coffers to tell me that the Liberal Party used to use the public coffers.

We fought that fight in the last election.

(2) I believe firmly in "local control of local issues", and a federal government appointment process done this way seems out of touch - three of the five appointees aren't from Toronto. Everybody knows the Toronto Airport has caused no end of controversy for the city. It would have been better, to say, appoint local municipal councillors to sit on the TPA - one opposed to the airport, one in support of the airport, and one neutral on the issue (or whatever works out).

The Toronto Port Authority should be governed, at least, in partnership between the City of Toronto, the Province of Ontario, and the Government of Canada. I don't see how keeping the Toronto Port Authority in firm federal hands makes any sense on any level. And, to obviously take it in a direction that is opposed by the City of Toronto seems wrong to me. Even if you oppose the City of Toronto's viewpoint, it's still the City of Toronto's viewpoint.

I'm willing to be corrected on this, but this seems stinky. The concern about uncovering more Liberal waste is speculation, for sure, but come on.

Update: A follow up is posted here.

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OMMAG said...

Speculation serves no purpose.
However patronage appointments in any shape or form are a concern.
If the TPA needs overhaul then the powers that be need to make clear that their priority is overhaul. And if those being appointed have a special talent for analysis and change management then lets hear what that is.

This is an issue to watch.

Steve Stinson said...

My understanding is that the government is currently conducting a forensic audit of the TPA. Putting your own nominees on the board is a good sign they plan to clean it up.

Jim (Progressive Right) said...

Steve, that is true.

However, the problem is, the appointees have the perception of being patronage appointees with a specific agenda in mind (connections to officers of Porter Airlines operating in the Toronto Airport, past supporters of the CPC / Ont PC parties...).

In all likelihood, that forensic audit will show us how bad the Liberals ran it - which is something I don't care about because I know how bad they ran it - but now we have the perception of Conservatives at the trough.