Mississauga Councillors Declare War on Airport Authority

It’s no secret that there are huge plans in the works for Pearson Airport.

That said, the city that houses the massive airport isn’t too happy with the organization that runs it.

The City of Mississauga, which prides itself on being the home of the head offices of some 85,000 companies, has drawn a line in the sand when it comes to its relationship with the organization that operates the Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Last week during their final council meeting of 2017, Mississauga city councillors passed a motion brought forward by Ward 5 Councillor Carolyn Parrish that basically requests the end of negotiations with the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) until they meet the following criteria, as quoted from Parrish's motion:

  • A full presentation to be prepared to include an 'education' session from November 22, the staff report and correspondence from the GTAA including the Mississauga / GTAA Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) background attachment with the City Solicitor's clarifications. This is to be immediately forwarded to the Ontario Minister of Finance with a request for a full review of the regulation outlining what the authority is paying.

  • This same package be forwarded to the Federal Minister of Transport with a request that none of the lands purchased by the GTAA for non-airport use be transferred to 'The Crown' and that they pay market value property taxes and follow normal municipal development process and pay all related fees and charges.

  • A full presentation be forwarded to the GTAA with a request for an immediate meeting with City Staff to begin laying out the parameters for the MOU that fulfills the directive of Transport Canada for an agreement which will be satisfactory to the City of Mississauga Staff and Council.

  • To resolve the Stormwater Charge standoff through mediation.

  • A notice be sent to the GTAA that there will be no further discussions or co-operation between the GTAA and the City of Mississauga regarding their desire to collaborate on a plan for the GTAA Regional Transit Centre at Toronto Pearson Airport (by 2027), which proposes to integrate a number of transit lines, across various municipal systems including another hub for MiWay until such time as an MOU satisfactory to both parties has been negotiated and approved.

  • A communications plan be developed to share crucial facts with the residents of Mississauga in a clear and concise form.

Prior to this action, Mississauga already sued the GTAA for non-payment back in February, and the GTAA filed a statement of defense a month later.

The GTAA has been holding public meetings over the last few months with residents because they are looking to expand the airport into a secondary transit hub in the GTA area, currently dubbed "Union Station West." I went to one of them over the summer, and suffice it to say Mississauga residents in attendance were not happy with the way the GTAA has been handling this file, especially with noise management.

Parrish's motion is based on the fact that the airport is situated on federal land, therefore the GTAA doesn't pay property taxes to the city. The authority pays what is called "payment in lieu of taxes" (with the ironic acronym of PILOT), and in aviation parlance it means they pay based not on the amount of cargo, but the number of passengers on flights.

Parrish contends that even under this formula, the GTAA is ripping the city off; the Greater London Airport Authority (which operates the London International Airport in London, Ontario) pays $1.67 per passenger, whereas the GTAA pays less than a dollar (something like $0.94) per passenger.

If Mississauga's rate were equal to that of London, the city would receive $42.5 million in PILOT per year from the GTAA, instead of the $23 million it is currently collecting.

The motion also mentions how no progress had been made since 2007 to harmonize the development of airport lands in conjunction with the municipal code, regulations and bylaws. Meanwhile, a number of third party developments have been completed including a hotel, warehouse, car dealerships and a Tim Hortons currently in operation, with no construction details provided to the City of Mississauga and payments made in an ad hoc fashion that have sometimes fallen short of the full payments.

"They are completely unto themselves and until this point when they wanted to do something (getting Union Station West underway) they have been so uncooperative as to be embarrassing…and when they do pay, they underpay," quipped Parrish, saying the GTAA operates like the Vatican City inside Italy.

The motion sailed through Council unanimously, with other councillors echoing similar sentiments. Mayor Bonnie Crombie said the GTAA has been talking about growth every year (in 2016, some 44 million passengers moved through Pearson) but the city doesn't get any share of that growth. Councillor George Carlson said being willingly blind to reality cannot go on forever and ever, and Councillor Nando Iannicca offered an interesting take, saying if the issue was treated like marijuana legalization, no one would question that the city should be getting a fair share of revenues.

Insauga.com reached out to the GTAA and they provided this statement via email:

“The Greater Toronto Airports Authority is disappointed with the motion put forward this week in Mississauga council and continues to welcome opportunities to discuss our mutual growth, provide the facts about our relationship and work towards an agreement with the city that is fair and reasonable. Knowing that transit is one of the biggest priorities for residents, we will continue to push ahead with other municipalities and levels of government to move the transit agenda forward.

We shared our position via a letter to Mayor Crombie and Council last week. We have previously agreed to move forward with discussions in Q1 in the interest of reaching a fair and reasonable agreement that recognizes the significant role Toronto Pearson plays in creating jobs and attracting world class businesses to Mississauga and the GTA.”

The GTAA also provided their own account regarding PILOTs, stormwater fees and other fees, as well as the jurisdictions over land acquisitions. But at this point, based on Councillor Parrish's remarks, the city is highly skeptical of any information the GTAA is offering them, hence the request for a full presentation in 'clear and concise' language.

The comment about how the GTAA is operating the airport like Vatican City is rather conincidental, because I drew a similar observation during that summer public meeting.

But at least with the Vatican, a good percentage of the general population (especially if you are a devout and practicing Catholic) know that they're an independent city state that has been around for centuries. It is a good bet that most people using the airport every day don't realize this financial arrangement it has with the federal government, let alone the perceived notion that it is shortchanging Mississauga residents out of millions of dollars.

While there isn't an actual taking up of arms with both parties, and Howard Eng (the CEO of GTAA) is not the airport's Pope Francis, as the GTAA embarks on this expansion of Pearson International in an attempt to integrate into a wider regional transit network this latest development does make for some politically interesting palace intrigue within Mississauga.

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