by Mark Brooks
A citizen, worried that the pandemic is being used as cover to reward insiders, writes a letter to his Liberal MP. The reply he received was laced with misinformation and should worry every Canadian. It highlights the lack of leadership and wishful thinking now delaying the development of new infrastructure in Canada. In this case the project in question is Pickering Airport.
Thanks to social media, the spread of false or misleading information has become easier than ever before. From local lobby groups spreading rumours for profit, to foreign powers with sophisticated divisive propaganda campaigns, the use of misinformation has skyrocketed. The result of this blizzard of falsehoods is confusion and indecision. Misinformation is muddying the waters of Canada’s democratic system and could be a growing threat to our government’s ability to function.
Our elected officials, along with reporters, are prime targets of misinformation campaigns. Too often, unknowingly or not, they participate in spreading falsehoods. This misinformation feeds on wishful thinking, what you want to hear and fear.
Together Canadians can combat misinformation by listening to a diversity of viewpoints, and by being skeptical of what you read and watch. We need to demand and support strong professional journalism and, as consumers, reduce financial incentives for those who profit from disinformation. But most of all we need to be active and engaged with those we elected to govern. If you see an elected official deceived by disinformation or utilizing misinformation to achieve a political goal, speak up. In a democracy silence is complicity.
Sending a letter to your local MP (Member of Parliament) is a time-honoured way of communicating issues and concerns. A local Pickering resident did just that when he believed something was amiss with the ongoing procrastination over building a new airport in his community. When he received what appeared to be an inaccurate response, he asked for my help with a fact check. As a concerned citizen and a volunteer moderator of PickeringAirport.org, I reviewed the MPs statements.
I found that the MP misrepresented three key facts published in a multi–million-dollar government consulting report called the KPMG ASA report. These mistakes are critical to our communities’ future and raise important questions:
- The MP incorrectly states that the report was released in June 2019. In reality it was released on March 5th 2020 just as the pandemic is taking hold. But this does beg the question, did the MP share a still confidential government report with an anti-airport lobby group before it was released to the public?
- The MP incorrectly summarises the results of the report by saying that a new airport is not needed before 2038. The date of 2038 is created out of thin air and is not in the report. Also, the report clearly states that new aviation capacity is needed sooner, and the only way to avoid building Pickering airport is to build that capacity elsewhere, primarily in Waterloo and Hamilton, hours away from where it is needed. To date, these airports and their communities have wisely declined that burden.
- The MP speculates, without facts or expertise, that the pandemic will delay the need for new aviation infrastructure. While anything is possible, the opposite is far more likely. The aviation industry is in the process of implementing new international biohazard and hygiene guidelines that will require more time on gate and more terminal space for each flight. These two infrastructure deficiencies where already identified by KPMG ASA report before the pandemic and will now become even more acute. Building a new airport in Pickering would rectify these constraints.
What follows is the email exchange between Bob Wilson and his federal MP for Pickering – Uxbridge, Liberal Jennifer O’Connell. At his request, I pointed out the misinformation in her statement in a follow–on email Also included below. The MP has unfortunately failed to respond to the request for a correction. We are publishing these emails in the hopes that the MP will take this opportunity to recognize and correct her misstatements. Alternatively, the voters can hold the MP to account in the next election.
Your letters and vigilance matters. Democracy is not a spectator sport. We must demand that our elected leaders have a disciplined and open mind to see the world as it really is. They need to listen to and protect the interest of ordinary Canadians, not a select few or their lobby group. Together we can help by communicating with our elected officials to help them stay grounded in the world of real facts.
Bob Wilson’s original note:
From: Robert Wilson
Sent: July 24, 2020 11:09 AM
To: O’Connell, Jennifer – M.P. <Jennifer.OConnell@parl.gc.ca>
Subject: Airport Lands
As we emerge from the Covid fog I would like to bring your attention to this ongoing situation.The airport lands just north of us, here in Pickering that is, need to be converted into an actual airport. Soon.
It has been brought to my attention that the lands are leased, at bargain prices from Transport Canada, and then, sometimes, sub leased again and again.
Of course if you have a rock bottom lease you would not want the airport built.These are probably the very people that shout the loudest against the airport.
We need an enquiry into who has these leases and at what price they are getting the lease for.This could be another corrupt situation, e.g. WE program, that our government finds itself in.
Bob Wilson<Address redacted for privacy considerations>
The email reply from Jennifer O’Connell, MP for Pickering Uxbridge :
Date: July 31, 2020 at 2:11:05 PM EDT
To: <Email redacted for privacy considerations>
Subject: RE: Airport Lands
I am sorry I missed you when I called back to speak with Margaret, but I let her know I would send you the information replying to your email.
I am happy to provide you with the latest information regarding the lands in Pickering which were expropriated for an airport nearly 45 years ago. Unfortunately there has been a lot of misinformation spread about these lands and I am happy to have the opportunity to share the facts with you.
I’ve seen as of late this idea that Transport Canada has leased the agricultural lands at “bargain” prices. I do not know where this idea is coming from because it actually is not factual. For 20 years those lands for agricultural purposes were leased at $40 per usable farmable acre on a year to year basis. In 2018 our Government changed that and charged $120 per usable farmable acre, bringing the lease rates up to the comparable rates for the GTA, and these are now 10 year leases. The suggestion for an inquiry into the rates of these leases is one I don’t understand because at the time of the change it was made public and the rate increased was 3 times that of the rate for the past 20 years in order to make them consistent with Provincial lease rates or the rates in the Rouge Park for example.
In regards to the idea that an airport is needed now, Transport Canada commissioned a Needs Assessment study based on capacity of air travel in the GTHA and in particular looking at the capacity of Pearson airport. KPMG was hired to do this study and it was determined that a need for a reliever airport would not be prior to 2038. And it is commonly understood that the development of an airport, (from design and approval process through to construction) requires 8-10 years. The government also committed that a Pickering airport would not be built without a strong business case, but given the needs assessment has the need for a reliever airport nearly 20 years from now, it would be premature to look at the business case given the economic conditions for something nearly two decades from now would not be relevant information. The KPMG report was released to the public in June 2019, which was obviously prior to Covid and since then many in the airline industry have stated they anticipate it taking 3-4 years for the industry to return to pre-covid levels, therefore it might be safe to assume the KPMG study would need to add this downturn to the capacity projections.
I hope this information has clarified the situation regarding these lands. If you would like to read more about the leases, including how many there are and the rates, it is all available online at the following link. Also, included on that link is the KPMG study I’ve referred to and the background on these lands.
I hope you have a nice weekend, it was great chatting with you this week.
My email pointing out the erroneous facts in the MPs statement:
From: mark brooks
Sent: Monday, August 10, 2020 9:28 AM
<CC redacted for privacy considerations>
Subject: Correcting your misstatements on Pickering Airport
To: Jennifer O’Connell, MP Pickering-Uxbridge
From: Mark Brooks, Friends of Pickering Airport.
Bob Wilson, a Pickering resident and like myself a longtime supporter of aviation, has asked for a comment on the accuracy of an email you recently sent him. On that basis, and as a citizen of our democracy I always do my best to help out. In this instance to politely point out the errors and omissions being made and warn of the coming storm.
I am especially worried that you may not understand the extent of the misinformation in your email to Bob. I will do my best to give a quick summary:
“The suggestion for an inquiry into the rates of these leases is one I don’t understand “
The request is for transparency into who has the commercial, residential and farmland leases as well as the lease rate (only a general farm lease rate is known). As almost all are not original landowners, their identities are not known. Who are the corporations and individuals who have leases and to what extent have they embedded themselves or are connected to the civil servants and politicians ( including yourself) who influence the lease terms?
Some leaseholders are using the pandemic as cover to lobby for changes to the terms of their leases from 10 years with a 1-year cancelation clause to 20 years with no cancellation clause. If implemented, it would dramatically increase the value of each lease. It could be an incredible windfall for the current lease holders, while blocking the potential for a higher and better use of these lands. So their identity has now become a very important question.
It could also require the government to spend millions of dollars in the near future to buy back the leases in order to build an airport. If we have private investors ready to start building Pickering Airport, why would we even contemplate extending these leases?
“KPMG was hired to do this study and it was determined that a need for a reliever airport would not be prior to 2038.”
The KPMG report actually says that new airport capacity is needed between now and 2036 and that the only way to avoid delaying Pickering airport beyond 2036 is to build billions of dollars of new aviation infrastructure in other locations. To date, there are no indications whatsoever that Hamilton and Waterloo are interested in the extensive expansions suggested by the KPMG ASA report for their respective airports. In addition there appears to be no private investors interested in doing so to the extent required.
The KPMG report never mentions the year 2038. Although interesting enough that is the lease extension date now being lobbied for by some of the current lease holders.
You stated: “Pickering airport would not be built without a strong business case”
The KPMG report spends 100+ pages to layout a strong business case ( 8% IRR) for the new airport and suggests building it in stages, breaking ground in 2026 (5 1/2 years from now), to maximize private investment and minimize the cost to the taxpayer.
In addition, all interested airport investors will prepare extensive business cases to support their development proposals. The federal government simply needs to start the Pickering Airport development process in order to receive them. Why not do that now?
You stated: “The KPMG report was released to the public in June 2019, which was obviously prior to Covid”
The report was completed in June 2019 but not released to the public until March 5th2020 just as the pandemic hit. You were the first government MP to release a statement on the contents of the report to the public. You did so on March 5th, only two hours after the report was public. A group representing the leaseholders’ interests (Land Over Landings) released a statement at the same time quoting you. How was this possible? Did LOL receive the report in advance of its public release? What is your relationship with them? Your statement then, as now, misrepresented the KPMG reports findings in line with LOLs interests.
“ airline industry have stated they anticipate it taking 3-4 years for the industry to return to pre-covid levels, therefore it might be safe to assume the KPMG study would need to add this downturn to the capacity projections.”
You have confused predicted passenger volumes with predicted maximum capacity.
While IATA is projecting passenger volumes will return to 2019 levels by 2024, returning Pearson Airport’s capacity to 2019 levels of 50 million passengers is something else entirely. It is even possible that Pearson may not be able to handle 50 million passengers safely and economically again, although my bet is that the GTAA’s world class team is up to it.
Around the world the aviation industry, including the GTAA and Transport Canada, is charting a course to recover from COVID-19. IATA and ICAO are in the process of setting new standards for hygiene, screening, and operational procedures to enable the removal of international quarantines that have crippled the Canadian and global economy. With these new standards, IATA is projecting a full recovery to 2019 global passenger levels by 2024, but this is also expected to reduce an airport’s maximum capacity, and will create a customer experience challenge.
These efforts are expected to place new demands on terminal space and gate time. Even with a spartan teardown, the GTAA is expected to reduce its maximum passenger capacity estimates at Toronto Pearson airport.
From onsite COVID testing and social distancing standards to optimizing at-risk passenger and staff interactions, terminal space will be at a premium. New vigorous aircraft cleaning efforts between unloading and reloading of passengers will require more time on gate for each aircraft. New risk management standards may also make the efficient utilization of wide body jets less possible. This will accelerate the industry’s pre-existing move to narrow body jets. It can take three 737s, on three gates to equal the passenger load of one Boeing 777 on one gate.
Unfortunately, the Toronto region was already forecasted to be constrained by a shortage of gates and terminal space before the pandemic thanks to procrastination over building new infrastructure. The KPMG ASA report called for the addition of 5 million sq. feet of terminal space and 256 new gates between now and 2036 just to handle Toronto’s forecasted population and traffic growth.
With new hygiene and risk management demands on its infrastructure, can Pearson airport once again safely handle the 50 million passengers it managed in 2019? What is its new maximum capacity? How can it handle the new traffic created by the region’s growth forecast of 100,000+ new citizens every year? How can Toronto recover from the economic destruction created by the pandemic without being efficiently connected by air to the Canadian and global economy?
With all of these questions and challenges the last thing the Toronto region needs is an elected member of the governing party misstating dates, misinterpreting facts and dismissing offhand the challenges created by COVID19. You need to understand that this supports an anti-airport agenda that would potentially benefit a select and unknown local few at the expense of the greater good of millions of Canadians.
Canadians need leadership on these difficult issue, not incorrect information supporting wishful thinking. Those opposed to the airport need to clearly state the reasons for their opposition ( lifestyle, financial gain, ideology), not be allowed to hide behind erroneous or made-up facts.
I remain able and willing to volunteer a pro-aviation voice to balance your understanding of the facts and issues.
Friends of Pickering Airport,
End of email chain
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