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Liberals Make Airport an Election Issue

I am planning on writing about this election from a broader perspective than just a "Toronto politics blog", however, today's Toronto Star touches on a local issue that some of my readers may be interested in...

The article is about a letter from the Liberals' GTA Minister, Joe Volpe, to Mayor David Miller that was sent yesterday. Here are some excerpts:

To ensure that a bridge is not built, the federal government is prepared to execute an amending agreement, one made necessary because city council has changed its mind," Volpe wrote in the two-page letter.

However, it will only do so if the agreement does not cause any other party, and in particular the federal government, to incur any costs or liabilities that would flow as a result of the execution of such an amending agreement.

You will be pleased to know that I have instructed our solicitors to meet with yours, at the very earliest opportunity, with a view to preparing an amending agreement that reflects these intentions.

Now, this isn't that big of a shift, but there is one piece of news. Previously, the City has agreed to pay some costs, and was left to negotiate directly with the Toronto Pork Authority to determine what those costs should be. However, this has stalled on the TPA's insistence that the City keep the costs confidential.

The offer in this letter might be a good one, since the City has already agreed to pay for such things as the traffic survey that the TPA was required to do in preparation for construction. On the other hand, this offer might be a very bad one, depending on what is meant by "costs or liabilities that would flow as a result of the execution of such an amending agreement".

It is certainly possible to interpret this phrase as meaning the City would be liable for the revenues that the airport would have otherwise been able to earn. This is a ridiculous demand -- there is no reason the City should have to pay a federal government agency to not earn money in an undesirable way -- but it is also a possible demand, when you remember that the Toronto Pork Authority's interest in expanding the airport was about generating revenue to support its otherwise unsustainable self. (Back in December, the TPA demanded "$1-million and $2-million a year, possibly for up to 30 years" to support the money-pit airport.)

The offer would also be bad if it transfered responsibility for other parties' negligence to the City. At the time that City Council reversed its position on the bridge, the required permits for construction had still not been issued. There was never a moment, therefore, that any party should have considered the bridge to be a sure thing. However, we don't know what assurances the TPA has given to its partners, or what commitments it has made for itself.

Nevertheless, this offer is good news. If the City's capable lawyers aren't able to reach a satisfactory agreement with the feds during election-period negotiations, this letter will certainly backfire of Toronto-area Liberals.

Which leads me to the laughable statements of the Toronto Star's source, an unnamed "senior Liberal insider," who tells the Star that the letter was "not politically motivated". He then goes on to suggest (by saying that he would not suggest) that this issue is related to Jack Layton, and the downtown seats where the NDP is threatening Liberal incumbents. There is in fact no doubt that the feds are acting now because they realize just how precarious their situation is. I don't know if a minority government can prevent the bridge from being built, but it can certainly end careers.

The "senior Liberal insider" also pushes the limit when he complains about Toronto's ingratitude over the this week's reannouncement of waterfront spending. He again tries to blame "Jack Layton and his acolytes", but apparently refuses to see that repetitive reannouncements of the same (or dwindling) money, without actually writing any cheques, is one of the most obvious examples of what is wrong with this government.

In fact, announcements of spending that never actually happens is a perfect corollary to Paul Martin's now-notorious habit of promising everything to everyone.



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