This weekend is the LPC(O) Policy Prioritization Meeting & Executive Board. You will be asked to prioritize 10 policy resolutions for debate at the Liberal Party of Canada Biennial in Montreal. It's an impressive list of great ideas, showcasing clearly what Liberals care about.
On that list, is the policy resolution to Protect the Pickering Lands prioritized by Central Region.
In 1972, the federal government expropriated 18,000 acres of farmland for a proposed new Toronto international airport. In the face of mounting local pressure and opposition from residents, the project was shelved in 1975.
On June 11, 2013, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, with Ajax-Pickering MP Chris Alexander, announced that the Conservative government would move ahead with the development of an airport on these lands.
Residents, local representatives and the media were kept behind police tape during the announcement. Provincial representatives were not consulted or given a head's up on the announcement. The pretense of the announcement was the land would be given to the new Rouge National Park. True, 5,000 will be added to the park, but the remaining 13,000 will be used for the airport and "industrial uses".
These are the facts:
- There has been no business case made for an airport in Pickering. Money used to build this airport could instead be used for an National Transportation Strategy (as proposed by the Richmond Hill Federal Liberal Association)
- There *was* a business case for an airport in Mirabel (Montreal) and passenger flights ceased October 31, 2004. It's now a cargo plane hub and movie set.
- Lester B Pearson International Airport (Toronto) is under capacity; John C Munro International Airport (Hamilton) is underutilized. Immense infrastructure exists in both facilities. As with the Montreal experience, airlines will be unlikely to move operations from Pearson in favour of this new airport.
The busiest airport in North America is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It was also the world's busiest in 2012. It handled over 95 million passengers last year (1). This airport occupies just 4,700 acres (2). Pearson, by comparison, handled over 34 million passengers, and nearly occupies a similar 4,700 acres (3). Atlanta handles almost 3 times as many passengers, yet occupies a nearly identical space.
On the face of it, it seems that the protection of these federal lands would not be of national importance. I'd ask you to think of it differently.
In hindsight, Mirabel was a mistake. It cost billions and did not return on the investment.
While this specific policy resolution seeks to protect the federal lands in Pickering - the GTA’s healthiest watersheds, freshwater streams, and natural habitats - this would set an important precedent that Liberals value the principles of sound environmental stewardship, sound economic development, and sound transportation investment.
Future expropriations must clearly take into account economics, the environment - and be free of political ambition.
(1) Wikipedia, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
(2) Atlanta Airport, fact sheet
(3) Pearson Airport, Airport 101
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