Pierre Poilievre would approve runway expansion to bring jets to Billy Bishop airport

Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre said Thursday a federal government led by him would approve a runway expansion at Toronto's Billy Bishop airport which would allow jets to fly in and out of the downtown.

Liberal government said in 2015 that it would not let jets fly out of the Toronto Island airport

Pierre Poilievre says he would approve a future proposal to expand the runway at Toronto's city centre airport to allow jets to fly in and out of the downtown. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre said Thursday a federal government led by him would approve a runway expansion at Toronto's Billy Bishop airport which would allow jets to fly in and out of the downtown.

In a media statement, Poilievre said the move would increase competition in the aviation sector and provide passengers with an alternative to Toronto's Pearson International Airport.

"Travel at Pearson is a mess right now," he said. "There could have been way more flights out of Billy Bishop airport in downtown Toronto, meaning more competition and more choice, but the dreadful gatekeepers wouldn't let it happen. 

"I will reverse Trudeau's decision to side with them and allow jets to fly in and out of Billy Bishop airport to give people back control of their lives."

Pearson International has struggled recently with flight delays and cancellations as airlines adjust to higher passenger levels following the pandemic slowdown.

Pearson and Air Canada have led the pack internationally in the percentage of flights delayed over the past month, frequently surpassing 50 per cent.

"We can all understand why they're angry and frustrated. Your flight gets cancelled and they tell you to call and you wait on hold for six hours — and I'm not exaggerating," said Leslie Dias, director of airlines at Unifor. The union represents 16,000 air transport workers, including 5,600 customer service and sales agents at Air Canada.

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. Pierre Poilievre says expanding the airport would give travellers an alternative to delay-plagued Pearson International. (The Canadian Press/Michelle Siu)

"To some extent, our people are broken," Dias told the Canadian Press Wednesday from Calgary, where she is engaged in a labour dispute on behalf of baggage and customer service agents.

"They're upset, they're often close to tears, they're exhausted. At all airlines they're being asked to work as many hours as they can possibly manage to work. And they feel helpless."

Dias added that police officers are being called to airport gates daily in response to verbal harassment by travellers.

Airport expansion died in 2015

Poilievre said that as prime minister, he would direct his transport minister to open the sector to more competition and encourage Porter Airlines to put the proposal to expand Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport back on the table.

He said he also would advise the city of Toronto and PortsToronto to approve a proposal to extend the runway, providing taxpayers would not have to pick up the cost.

A Poilievre government, he said, would reopen the tripartite agreement with PortsToronto, the airport and the City of Toronto with the intention of allowing jets to operate out of the airport.

Back in December 2015, PortsToronto, the owner and operator of Billy Bishop airport, said the plan to bring jets to the tiny airport was dead in the water.

"PortsToronto will complete the technical work currently underway, but will not proceed with further public engagement-related activities pertaining to the Porter Proposal to introduce jets," the agency's CEO Geoffrey Wilson said in a media statement at the time. "As such, the studies will not be finished."

PortsToronto's decision followed an announcement the month before by then-transport minister Marc Garneau that his government would not amend the tripartite agreement to remove the prohibition on commercial jets.

Under the terms of the agreement, if one party to the arrangement refuses to revisit it, the agreement cannot be reopened.

Porter Airlines wanted to fly Bombardier CS-100 jets out of that airport and had been lobbying for the reopening of the tripartite agreement.

With files from The Canadian Press

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