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Airport expansion could be on hold until after Toronto election in October

Two Porter Airline turboprop aircraft, left, and an Air Canada Express turboprop sit on the tarmac at the Toronto Island Airport, March 24, 2014.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Plans to expand Toronto's Island Airport face another hurdle at city hall Tuesday, with several councillors saying they want to stop negotiations on the controversial proposal.

City council is expected to debate a staff report that would give the go-ahead for talks to alter the existing agreement for the waterfront facility and open the door for plans by Porter Airlines to fly jets out of the airport. Under the staff proposal, no deal would be made without another vote at council next year after the municipal election.

Councillor Peter Milczyn is unwilling to support those qualified negotiations, confirming Monday he will introduce at council a motion to leave the agreement that governs the airport as it is – including a ban on jets. The same motion was defeated 11-1 at a meeting of the executive committee last week. Mr. Milczyn is predicting a much closer vote at council.

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Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who is now supporting the staff recommendation after failing to get support for a plan that would have given conditional approval for the expansion without a second council vote, is predicting the staff recommendation will carry the day. "I think the votes are there, yes," Mr. Kelly said Monday.

Late last week, Porter CEO Robert Deluce also signalled he would support the staged negotiation plan proposed by city staff, saying it would set the airline "on a nice course" toward a "more definitive path" for approval.

Despite the change in tactics from the airline, both Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, said Monday they want to give staff authority to hammer out a deal under certain conditions without the need to return to council next year for final approval.

"Just let's move it along." the mayor said.

Porter would like to have the main runway at the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport extended by 400 metres, allowing the airline to fly longer-range CS100 jets in addition to the regional Q400 turbo-prop. Proponents point to the economic advantages and convenience of expansion, while opponents say it would have permanent negative effects on the waterfront.

Staff are recommending that the city, the federal government and the Toronto Port Authority, which owns and operates the airport, work through a series of issues related to expansion. Only after those are settled would suggested changes to the agreement governing airport use come back to council for a vote.

The key vote on the island airport comes almost a year to the day from Porter's announcement that it had placed a conditional order for jets. That announcement set off a heated debate among councillors and the public, reigniting the familiar debate over the merits of a waterfront airport. Faced with opposition to its plans, Porter has responded with signs and pamphlets, frequent visits to City Hall by its executives, and most recently internet and full-page newspaper ads urging residents to tell their councillors to vote yes.

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Those efforts have had mixed results. Councillor Karen Stintz, who last year said she was against expansion, has changed her position, saying she supports the staff recommendation to further study the plan.

Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby, who supported the bridge to the airport and the tunnel, said she will back Mr. Milczyn's motion this time around. She cited the extensive lobbying by the airline as part of the reason, saying the campaign is "50 times worse" than the efforts to get city approval for a downtown casino.

Either way, Mr. Milczyn predicted Tuesday's vote is unlikely to end the debate. If the staff recommendations pass, it will be back before council next year. If his proposal succeeds, he predicts that the matter will come back before the new council, "no doubt."

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