Tuesday, May 05, 2009

If the dry cleaner asks...

about those bite marks on the seat of Mayor Miller's trousers, he can tell them that his most fervent, and most demanding batch of supporters, Community AIR, ran out of patience with him. Again. The waterfront lobby claims they have never yet "gone public" with their frustration with Mr. Miller; that depends on what they mean by going public. Representatives from Community AIR have certainly seldom hesitated to make their desires known to the mayor and the city. And the limits of the mayor's ability to deliver have seldom failed to frustrate them.

Three stubborn facts continue to obstruct the members and supporters of Community AIR, and they remain stubbornly tone-deaf in their approach to these facts. First, the environmental effects of air traffic raise regional issues, and affect people in other cities beside Toronto. And that matters, because Mayor Miller will find it much harder to get support for initiatives such as regional transit if he has alienated cities on all sides of Toronto. The members of Community AIR can claim, as they did in their latest leaflet, that the aviation activities they find intolerable on the waterfront "belong" at Pearson International Airport. Community AIR, of course, has the freedom to claim that the aviation belongs at Pearson, and that the environmental effects of aviation belong in the ears and lungs of the people in Rexdale and Malton. But Mr. Miller has to get along with the politicians who represent the voters in Rexdale and Malton, as well as North Pickering, where the GTAA wants to build an airport. Community AIR can dismiss these people and their interests; the Mayor of Toronto, not so much.

Secondly, most of the airport lands belong to Transport Canada, precisely because in Canada we depend on our transportation system for our country's economic and political health. More even than most nations, we cannot do without a system of transport that includes aviation. And while Toronto City Centre Airport can only play a minor role in the passenger transport system, reliever airports, including Toronto City Centre, typically play a much more prominent role in the medical transport system, And Toronto City Centre Airport handles, on average, ten medical flights a day. Transport Canada has no intention of ignoring the needs of those ten flights, nor will they hand the city title to the airport property for nothing.

Community AIR has one thing right: their rhetoric helped make Toronto City Centre Airport an issue that David Miller rode to victory in the Mayor's race, over at least two candidates who would, in my opinion, have done a much better job of governing. But overheated claims do not stand the test of time very well. The jet fleets pictured on David Miller's election posters in 2003 never materialized. His promise to cancel the bridge to the airport cost a great deal more than a twoonie to keep, and now, as Toronto weathers a severe recession, the success of Porter and Bombardier's Q-400 turbo-prop offers one of the few industrial good news stories we have. For a few years, the rhetoric of David Miller and his waterfront supporters captured public imagination, but Bob Deluce provided actual jobs, actual service, and some very deft branding.

But the issue does not simply involve promotion or jobs. Community AIR and their supporters have made a great many contentious claims over the years, and a good number of them have not come true. Consider the claim, made by Community AIR in the 2003 election, that Deluce Turboprops might take the Don Valley VFR corridor to go north of the city. It didn't happen. Or consider the oft-repeated argument that travelling in a Deluce turbo-prop causes more environmental harm than driving a hummer. By my calculations, based on the published fuel consumption figures for various cars, and on the published fuel load and range figures for the Q-400, flying on a Q-400 releases just slightly more greenhouse gasses than driving a car with average fuel economy, less than driving a light truck or SUV, and very considerably less than driving a hummer. Rhetoric may attract public attention, but to keep it, you have to meet actual needs, and make environmental trade-offs that make sense.

Still, Community AIR had so much to do with the election of our current mayor, and enough people have expressed frustration with our current mayor over taxes and services, that Community AIR might hurt him by withdrawing their support. But who, and how, how do they intend to replace him? As far as I know, Community AIR does not have a bull-pen full of Mayoral candidates with great hair. And the arbiters of taste in Toronto have take to gushing over Bob Deluce. By continuing to insist on maximal demands, Community AIR and its supporters have set themselves up for a very likely failure.

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