May 17th, 2023, a landslide vote in the Durham Region council chambers approves of the new Pickering airport’s important role in the region’s economic development. The new airport is part of the region’s Official Plan, a plan that is the culmination of years of work completed through the Envision Durham process, the Municipal Comprehensive Review of Durham’s existing strategic growth plan.
Last minute appeals by a handful of Anti-Growth / Anti-Airport activists had no effect. The council voted 20 in favor, including a Pickering regional councilor that had previously voted against the airport. Only 6 voted against.
We commend the work of the Durham Region council and staff who, over the last 5 years, have studied extensively, heard from probably 1,000 people or more, made the hard decisions, and have compiled a new Regional Official Plan (ROP) that strikes the right balance between quality of life, population and job growth, the natural heritage system, sustainability, and long-term prosperity. Into this mix, it recognizes and properly positions future development of the federal lands including an airport.
Two things stand out from the Region’s Special Meeting of May 17, 2023.
First, certain speakers, in advocating for their positions in opposition to the draft ROP, insinuated that some members of Council and staff had been unduly influenced by the development industry. Full credit to Mr. Walter Schummer, Mayor, Township of Brock, who called them out and challenged anybody that would impugn the integrity of any Councilor or member of staff on this (the ROP) or any matter.
Second, the last councilor to speak before the vote, Mr. Bob Chapman, Regional Councilor – Oshawa, and Chair, Planning and Economic Development Committee, said, sure, the draft ROP before them was not perfect. No Official Plan is! But it is the culmination of years of dedicated hard work. It is the job of Council to decide. We need to get this done.
You can review our pro-airport delegation’s presentation to Durham Region, given on March 7th, 2023, here:
The next step for the airport is a new capacity study by Transport Canada that is already underway. This study is expected to set the timing of the development of the new airport. But this issue is not yet over.
The fight over new transportation infrastructure planned for the Durham Region will continue. It is a fight that has many dimensions. The promise of new technology versus old. A global free market economy connected by the speed of aviation against small town thinking where no one is able to go anywhere fast. A future of balanced economic prosperity, environmental stewardship and global opportunities breaking free of isolationist ideas.
Today, reality and facts won against wishful thinking and misinformation. But we will remain diligent as the story has not ended. It is a story of our regions’ booming population growth pushing up against retirees who just want the world to stop spinning. It is a fight between Canada’s future and its past. Today the future won an important battle with a vote in Durham council in favor of a new development plan with a new airport.
The new Pickering Airport is a vision of a local accessible specialty passenger and industrial Net Zero emissions airport. An airport surrounded by an advanced employment zone, new homes, high technology farming and Canadas largest urban park. An area supporting light manufacturing in a new industrial park, 60,000 new high paying jobs, $10 billion in GDP growth and hundreds of millions a year in new tax revenue. A vision that replaces old school seasonal field farming with year-round food security, fresh vegetables grown in vertical farms powered by a Net Zero energy infrastructure. Vertical farms producing ten times the food currently grown by the five corporations leasing the majority of the public land set aside for the airport, while requiring less than 5 percent of the land!
A Net Zero emissions airport is the region’s path to creating a new low emissions economy. A logistics hub and employment zone for the 2.5 million people living within a radius of 30 kilometers of the airport. A population that will grow by 40% in the next three decades.
I am one of these citizens as are many other members of COPA (Canadian Owners and Pilots Association) who volunteer to promote aviation in our communities. I and others have been advocating for a new Net Zero emissions airport with a balance of environmental stewardship, lifestyle and prosperity with a global reach, a key part of a community where everyone will want to live, work and play.
Battling this vision of Canada’s future is an assortment of foes who are either profiting from the status quo or just like things the way they are. Some oppose change, “sprawl”, and growth of any sort. A few cling to the politics of the past, to the days of old when the land was first assembled for an airport back in the 1970s. A time when the outcome of the battle between capitalism and socialism was still undecided in Canada. When workers feared rather than welcomed global investment and opportunities.
Back then the original Pickering Airport was a government funded mega-project. It was wisely sidelined by then premier Bill Davis who preferred to let free enterprise take the steering wheel when the time was right. That time has now arrived. But a ghost remains from those past events that must be put to rest. Some of the “temporary” leaseholders of the airport lands, seem determined to scare away investment in an airport.
A few leaseholders and their supporters are not welcoming change quietly. Some of them spoke at the region and in Pickering city council against the airport. Others are being more direct. For my active support of the future vision of development I was recently verbally attacked by one of the renters of a house on the airport lands. Our volunteer organization was belittled by the Chairwoman of a local anti-airport group who seemed not to know or care about COPAs many good works in the community. From volunteering to fly HopeAir missions, to hosting COPA for Kids and supporting Girls take flight, COPA members are quietly enhancing our communities by sharing their love of aviation.
Our elected officials face similar attacks including the Mayor of Pickering, Kevin Ashe. Our crime is to ask the obvious questions that should be easy to answer. Who will benefit if the airport is delayed?
Who is leasing the Pickering airport lands now worth billions?
Who funded the anti-airport radio ads and/or related media activity in a recent election?
While the past should be honored, ghosts from the past should not be allowed to block the future of millions of Canadians. I am one of the 2.5 million citizens that live within the 30 Kilometer employment zone of the new airport. We applaud our elected officials for listening to all voices in our community not just a loud few. We cheer on your defense against the ghosts from the past. We applaud your good governance.
Instead of pumping up emotion driven conflict, let us seek harmony with reason and logical debate. Together we can build a balanced future for everyone. A future connected to the world by the power of net zero aviation.
It is time to exorcize the ghosts of the past by moving forward as quickly as possible with the new regional development plan.
A Statement from the Buttonville Flying Club (COPAs 44) President on the clubs efforts and the new airport being included in the regions development plan: