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Toronto deputy mayor calls for delay to island airport proposal until new year

Bob Deluce, the President and CEO of Porter Airlines makes a phone call following at City Hall in Toronto on Tuesday December 3, 2013, as lobbying continues for the introduction of jets to Toronto's Billy Bishop Airport.

Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

Toronto Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly wants to put off making a decision on a proposal from Porter Airlines to expand the island airport until next year.

The plan, which would extend the runway and allow jets at the airport, is to be discussed at the city's executive committee meeting on Thursday. It will be the first meeting Mr. Kelly will chair since council voted to strip Mayor Rob Ford of many of his powers and pass them on to the deputy mayor.

"This is a complicated issue, and I want to make sure that as many of the objections to moving forward as possible can be addressed," Mr. Kelly told reporters, although he would not describe the move as a retreat.

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"[It's a] tactical manoeuvre," Mr. Kelly said. "You can move laterally on the battlefield, as well."

Mr. Kelly's motion will defer a decision on the item until the first executive committee meeting of the year in January or until the deputy mayor calls a special meeting to deal with it.

The deputy mayor met with Mr. Ford in his office for about 20 minutes on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the motion, but the mayor said he could not support it.

"I want to move ahead with it. I think we've discussed this long enough. We've debated this issue. We've consulted with the public. We're not dealing with a fly-by-night company," Mr. Ford said after the meeting.

"There's no sense in delaying it. I don't see what a deferral for one month is going to do, especially over the holidays when a lot of people go away."

The meeting was the first between the two since council's vote to transfer the mayor's powers to the deputy mayor. Both Mr. Kelly and Mr. Ford said the meeting was friendly and there were no hard feelings.

"There was no hatchet. There was nothing to bury, really," Mr. Ford said.

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On Thursday, the executive committee will consider a staff report on the airport expansion proposal that recommends council hold off until 2015 to gather more information. Councillors and staff have pointed to the Toronto Port Authority as a missing piece in the talks and say an airport master plan is needed before a decision can be made on such a large project.

Others on the executive committee have their own ideas – Councillor Peter Milczyn has proposed receiving the report for information, a move that would shelve the proposal indefinitely. But if the executive committee brings it to council now or in the new year and rejects staff's recommendation to wait for more information, they could lose support, one councillor said.

"It looks like the executive committee could use an air traffic controller right now. They're all flying off in different directions," said Councillor Adam Vaughan, a vocal opponent of the expansion. "To rush this forward is just a crash waiting to happen. The only quick answer on the floor of council is 'no.' "

Porter Airlines president and chief executive officer Robert Deluce has spent the week meeting with councillors about the proposal.

As he was leaving councillors' offices on Wednesday, Mr. Deluce said he was not prepared to make a comment, but was not disheartened. "No, not at all. I'm very much encouraged by the progress."

The Toronto Region Board of Trade released a statement supporting a quick approval. It suggested council give a conditional approval to make sure all concerns are addressed.

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"In the meantime, business could continue working towards those conditions without losing a year and a half of planning and preparation time."

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