Paul Wilson: Thank you, Liberals – but Hamilton Airport is a dud

The federal Liberals gave Hamilton an expensive airport in the '80s for all the wrong reasons. It's now time to find something else to do with that empty passenger terminal.
The Hamilton airport website still highlights direct flights on WestJet to Halifax, Moncton, Winnipeg and Edmonton. But those runs will all be gone in a couple weeks, with Calgary the only daily destination left until next spring. (Hamilton Airport website)

Justin Trudeau’s campaign stop at the Sheraton last night had some yearning for the days when the Liberals ruled Ottawa – and Hamilton.

They remembered how the federal dollars used to flow around here. Eight years ago, there was the $10-million Discovery Centre on the waterfront, brought to us by Sheila Copps. When attendance tailed off there – and when the Conservatives trounced the Liberals – they shut the place down.

But the biggest gift the federal Liberals ever sent our way was Hamilton airport. Market forces didn’t put it there. Politics did, John Munro style. That’s why his name is on it.

In 1985, when the airport was new and shiny, Canada’s auditor general branded it a giant mistake. It cost nearly $50 million back then, about $100 million in today’s dollars.

Cargo operators like Hamilton airport, because it doesn’t have any of the pesky overnight curfews that Pearson has put in place.

Service slashed

But on the passenger front, Hamilton is a complete dud.

In two weeks, WestJet will slash its service at the airport. Direct flights to Halifax, Moncton, Winnipeg and Edmonton will all be discontinued until May. WestJet started these seasonal cuts a few years ago, saying it just wasn’t getting the loads for the cooler half of the year.

So after Saturday, Oct. 27, Calgary is the only daily destination from Hamilton airport, with one flight out at 7 a.m., another at 4.30 p.m. That big terminal is a morgue. Airlines do not want to be there.

The wine flows and the flights are frequent with Porter at the Toronto Island airport. (Porter website)

A few weeks ago I flew Porter for the first time, from the Toronto Island airport to St. John’s, Newfoundland. We parked for free at Aldershot, took the GO train to Union and a Porter shuttle to a comfy terminal.

Getting to St. John’s on Porter does involve touching down briefly in Ottawa and Halifax, but you don’t change planes. And on board, they’re pouring complimentary wine and beer all the way.

The most popular flight destination for the Hamilton market is Ottawa. But you can’t get there from here. Meanwhile, Porter flies to the capital from Toronto Island 17 times a day.

Munro and the Liberals built us the emptiest terminal in the land. Time to move on.

Out with all the seats and the vacant counters and the luggage carousel that never gets to spin. In with the slots and the green-felt tables – welcome to the new Hamilton Casino. 

Read more CBC Hamilton stories by Paul Wilson