by Ted Nickerson
The pending decision by Pickering Council is not going to change the status of the Federal Pickering lands.
The above statement is not meant to diminish the importance of the pending decision, nor to be critical of the motion’s proponents. It just means that the motion, if successful, will not achieve what the proponents think it will – End the discussion on the economic development of these federal lands.
A successful motion by Council to rescind support for an airport does not change the City’s Official Plan. The Pickering Official Plan supports development of the Federal lands including an airport. Changing that Plan requires an Official Plan Amendment, not a trivial exercise. It is a public process that will take time, money, and resources to complete.
But the Pickering Official Plan must comply with the Durham Region Official Plan since the Region is the upper tier form of government. The Regional Official Plan, current and proposed new in draft form, strongly supports a future Pickering airport.
So, a Pickering airport remains the official policy regardless of the Pickering Council’s pending decision.
Is Pickering prepared to invest time and money to appeal the Region’s draft Official Plan? An expensive action with a low probability of success. Interestingly, anti-airport groups where noticeably absent from Durham Region’s statutory public meeting for its proposed new Official Plan. Then, there’s the matter of the $70 million dollars that the developers of the Seaton community have invested as contractually agreed to for over-sizing services networks to accommodate future development of the federal lands. How will the city of Pickering repay a development levy equal to one year of the city’s revenue from residential property taxes?
Will a Pickering Council decision to no longer support an airport just remove them from the conversation? What are Pickering’s representatives on regional Council supposed to do or say? What message would that send to the community and businesses regarding not just an airport but receptiveness to growth in general? About the ability of the council to act responsibility in coordination with other levels of government?
It would not be much of a stretch to say that the province supports development of the federal lands considering the benefits such development could deliver and the significant regional growth expected by 2051.
The above comments and questions fall within the context of provincial and municipal planning. The real decision rests fully with the federal government. But why would they react to a city decision?
They have a current report, the ASA, that says an airport will be required someday. Previous Transport Canada-commissioned reports say that too. The Pickering Council decision will probably not be unanimous. The resolution before council contains information that can easily be challenged. The Region and the Province will voice their objections to cancellation of the full development of the federal lands. Will the city be liable for the cost of cancellation?
Is the Federal Government prepared to satisfy the parochial interests of a small but vocal group above all others? I don’t see how it would be in their interest to do so.
And as a final twist in thinking, will a decision (for or against the motion) change the actions of either the Pro- or Anti-Airport groups? No, it won’t! But their focus, the level of government they will target their messages to, will change. Each group will continue to support and work to advance their respective agendas. Neither group is going away.
The motion before Pickering Council is not going to achieve the outcomes that the sponsoring councillors might expect. The conversation for full development of the Pickering lands will continue. Time and money will be expended by the city if it participates in it.
A successful motion to rescind support will not be a true win for the Anti-Airport groups but it will benefit them. It will help create conflict and controversy that can be used to raise money through public donations. Is this the real goal of the motion?
Importantly, if the motion is defeated, it will signal that Pickering Council is committed to good governance of its own Official Plan. It is a signal of commitment by the city to the full development of the federal lands, and its role as a responsible partner working with other levels of government striving for balanced long-term growth.