On August 27, 2019, the Development Services staff of Whitchurch-Stouffville issued Report DS-037-19, “Pickering Airport Update (D26)”. The town council then quickly voted on a resolution opposing the development of the long-planned Pickering Airport.
The mayor and council did not ask for input or provide a review period for this document which appears to contain incorrect, outdated and irrelevant information. All of the talking points in the document are in line with those of a local group of citizens living on, around and benefiting from the idle status of the billion-dollar public land reserve set aside for the new airport.
Hoodwinked or Hoodwinker?
Fearing that our local politicians had been hoodwinked by those profiting from the status quo, we took to Twitter to point out the errors. The mayor simply expressed support for the Director of Development Services & Planning (who appears to have produced the document). The mayor seemed unaware of the document’s flaws or that it was every bit as far from “the required neutrality” as it accused other community groups of being. Was the document created to support a political position instead of being used as a basis for it? Was this document created to back a local federal MP Jennifer O’Connell as she runs for re-election ? As a negotiating point with other levels of government or other (larger) local towns and cities that support the new airport?
Welcome to Post-Truth Politics, where appeals to personal beliefs and emotions win out over objective facts. As citizens in a democracy we have a basic expectation that our public officials are trustworthy, both in their words and actions. In return, we comply with laws, pay taxes and cooperate with other government initiatives. Is issuing and defending a document that is so dated and flawed, even if it is simply a negotiating tactic, a trustworthy act? Are the mayor and council simply echoing back to its citizens what they want them to hear, instead of providing leadership?
Old, Outdated and Irrelevant
Why reach into the “Way-Back Machine” for historical predictions on passenger numbers from the last century when we have current and validated forecasts from the new 2018 GTAA (Greater Toronto Airports Authority) Master Plan? In line with soaring worldwide demand, the GTAA forecasts Pearson at 85 million passengers and a Toronto regional passenger demand of 94 million by 2037. Mr. Howard Eng, CEO, GTAA, has stated publicly that Pickering Airport will be needed and the planning for it needs to start.
The document discusses Mirabel Airport’s history (an airport near Montreal built in the 1970s) at length, yet fails to describe why this would be relevant to building a new airport in Toronto today. It also fails to mention Mirabel’s current success as an aerospace innovation and manufacturing hub, creating thousands of jobs and adding billions of dollars annually to our nation’s GDP. Although Mirabel was most certainly a “catastrophic failure” in the 1970s, the result of bureaucratic bungling, how is a taxpayer-funded airport built in the 1970s to replace another airport (Montreal Trudeau CYUL, that in the end never closed), relevant today?
Pickering Airport is being built to augment Pearson Airport’s capacity, not replace it, and will almost certainly be a P3 initiative. A P3 is a private consortium bearing most of the costs through a Finance, Design, Build, Operate and Maintain (FDBOM) agreement with the Federal government. This is expected to be outlined in the next step in defining the airport, a federal RFP (Request for Proposals).
The Report says “there is not a clear business case available”. This is a correct statement as far as it goes, but is misleading as it is a classic “Catch-22” with the key word being “available”. There is no business case available to the public as the RFP (Request for Proposals) process (which the town appears to oppose) has not yet started.
It doesn’t mean a business case doesn’t exist. It will, when placed in the hands of potential airport investors, who will then regard it as a valuable business proprietary document. It is expected that it will be made available to the federal government on a confidential basis in response to a future RFP.
HSR Sun-Drenched Misdirection
The document also mentions High Speed Rail (HSR) as if it is still being studied for implementation. It is not. The current provincial government stated in March 2019 that it does not support HSR. Via Rail has also stated that it does not believe HSR is viable. It is possible that the report’s author has confused HSR with HFR (High Frequency Rail) which is now being studied. HFR will hopefully be operational by 2030 in the Toronto to Quebec City corridor including a stop at the new Pickering Airport.
The mention of Spain’s HSR system, (in a country with minimal winter maintenance and a population density many times that of Canada) can only be looked on as blue-sky “Symbolism over Substance”. If, by some magic, an HSR line was available tomorrow in the corridor (between Windsor, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City) it would offload only two to three years of passenger growth from Pearson. Today Less than 15% of Pearson’s passenger traffic is generated by these destinations.
Growth and Aircraft Noise
Consider this: between 2011-2016 the town of Stouffville grew four times faster than the provincial average, from 37,000 to 45,000 residents. It is no longer a sleepy retirement community. Although the town is not directly under the approach paths to the new airport, it is now bounded by it, both to the east, south and west. There is a small white-belt area to the west of Hwy 48 that will be below the approach to runway 10L. As the runway is over 10km to the south east, aircraft will be at least 1600 feet (above ground) in the air. It can still be developed but would be less attractive to residential buyers. (See the attached Preliminary Approach Concept)
The impact of aircraft noise on Whitchurch-Stouffville is a valid concern. Transport Canada made revisions to the Pickering Airport Site Zoning regulations (PAZR) in 2018 that are expected to reduce noise impacts on Whitchurch-Stouffville. Moving the runways east of the CP rail tracks and a change in orientation should ensure that most aircraft movements will occur over the Oak Ridges Moraine or provincial Greenbelt and not the larger residential areas. Though yet to be defined in an RFP, this change in airport location and runway orientation should ensure that no part of Whitchurch-Stouffville would be within the airport’s 30 NEP noise contour. It should also be noted that provincial and federal criteria prohibit an area in the NEP from being developed for noise-sensitive uses such as schools and residences.
Next Steps for The Town
Five out of six of the surrounding municipalities are in favor of the airport, so the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville’s opposition will not stop the long-planned project. Given the errors and omissions, the document should be viewed as no more than a simple “political fig-leaf”.
We urge the Town to redraft its position using up-to-date information and statistics. Even if they are opposed to the airport, its citizens deserve updated information. The Town’s residents deserve to understand the real noise impacts of the airport, as well as the economic and environmental burden that would be forced on others by delaying the airport further.