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New year sparks renewed interest in Pickering Airport

Whether or not the Pickering Airport will ever be constructed remains a question on the mind of many Durham politicians and residents.

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

As a new year and decade has dawned, the conversation concerning the Pickering Airport has once again reared its head.

An article published by CBC News earlier this month noted the Liberal government is believed to be sitting on an aviation sector analysis from consultant KPMG regarding the need for another airport in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

While other news outlets have reported construction on the airport may even start this year, Durham Regional Chair John Henry says there’s been no new announcements on the project.

However, Henry says regional council wants the feds to release the findings of the KPMG report sooner than later.

In May 2019, regional council advised the federal government it wants a commitment, either way.

“We would like the government to make a decision after all these years about creating an economic engine in the eastern part of the GTA,” Henry said at the time.

Frederica Dupuis, a spokesperson for Transport Canada, told The Oshawa Express the Aviation Sector Report, written by KPMG, was completed in spring 2019.

Dupuis said because the report is part of current development policy options, its findings will not be publicly released at this time.

Henry believes the airport would create hundreds of thousands of jobs and would be a significant boost to the local economy.

While many in opposition to the airport claim it would destroy valuable farmland, Henry believes the airport could involve a trend called “vertical agriculture.”

“If you look around the world around airports, you will find that large vertical growing greenhouse operations exist,” he said. Last year, Pickering MP Jennifer O’Connell told The Express she didn’t believe there was a viable business plan for the airport at this point.

“The official position of the government and Transport Canada is that the Pickering Airport would not be considered without a strong business case, and so far that has not been done,” she said.

Back in 2013, the late-Jim Flaherty, federal finance minister under the Harper Conservative government, said lands would be designated for the Pickering Airport, and claimed it would be operational by 2027.

However, the plans never received any significant forward movement, and the airport remains nothing more than a longstanding concept for the moment.


Years of questions

Discussions of a second international airport in Ontario date back to the 1960s, when the federal government originally studied expanding Toronto Pearson International Airport, then called the Malton Airport.

In March 1972, then-federal Minister of Transport Don Jamieson announced the government’s intention to develop the Pickering Airport.

Over the next year, the federal government expropriated 18,600 acres of land surrounding Pickering in preparation for airport construction, and still holds those lands today.

At the same time, the province announced plans for a new satellite city called Cedarwood, which would be constructed to the south of the airport.

However, in 1975, Ontario backed out of its agreement to build roads and sewers to service the site – for all intents and purposes, halting the construction at the time.

Over the past four decades numerous studies have been undertaken and different       versions of the Pickering Airport have materialized, but have never seen the light of day.


Continued frustration

Mary Delaney is a member of Land Over Landings, an organization formed in 2005 to oppose the construction of the Pickering Airport.

Delaney agrees the KPMG report should be publicly released, but “once it has gone through all the steps.”

“It has to have the required due diligence,” she told The Express.

In terms of recent news, Delaney said she is increasingly frustrated regarding “misinformation” she says some local politicians have spread.

“Some of it is deliberate… it’s a terrible way for governments and politicians to act. I think it’s shameless and shameful,” Delaney states.

In regards to the possibility of “vertical agriculture,” Delaney said it is viable in some areas, such as Niagara Region, but due to Durham’s colder climate, to her “it makes no sense” on a local scale.

“We could never compete, financially, nor should we try when we already have class one soil and optimum climate for so much more,” Delaney said. “The federal lands can grow 200 crops including market vegetables and world foods, plus grains and root vegetables, as well as animal husbandry and orchards. You can’t do that in a greenhouse. That’s how north Pickering farms could excel and restore economic prosperity to the region.”

With the Liberals holding just a minority government, Delaney believes the airport’s current status will remain the same and the chances of any sort of announcement being made which “so flagrantly flies in the face of the battle against climate change,” is unlikely.