Deja vu all over again

In the run-up to the 1972 federal election, when I was press secretary to then Opposition Leader Robert Stanfield, I wrote a research paper on the Pickering Airport proposed by the Trudeau Government. My conclusion: there was no need. More important, the majority of Torontonians didn’t want the airport. Yes, there was going to be a new airport built in Quebec, but Torontonians would not feel slighted if they didn’t get one, too.

During the election campaign, as Pickering Airport became an issue, Stanfield decided he wanted to hold a news conference on the topic. But what to say? The morning event was scheduled for the Sutton Place Hotel and I can remember returning from a political event the night before. As press secretary, I always travelled on the media bus, so I was pestered about what he’d be saying. Since not even Stanfield knew at that point, neither did I, so it was easy to remain mum.

A group gathered to draft Stanfield’s statement. They included speechwriters Bill Grogan and Dalton Camp, Research Director Geoff Molyneux, Finlay MacDonald, who ran the campaign, and me. Some drink was taken.┬áHours passed and we were no closer to having a statement than we were when we convened at 10 p.m. Finally, I think it was Dalton, came up with the phrase, “The case has not yet been made.”

Perfect. Stanfield was neither for nor against. It was up to the government to prove the necessity. The phrase was reminiscent of another expression Stanfield had used in becoming premier of Nova Scotia when he promised he would pave all roads that were “ready or near ready” for paving. Every voter on every gravel road assumed their byway was on the list even though no specific commitments were made.

Stanfield almost won the 1972 election. Pickering was only part of the unease people felt toward the Trudeau government, handing them a minority. Although the land was expropriated, the airport was never built. Anyone who has been through Pearson recently knows that there is plenty of capacity left. In all my comings and goings, I’ve never seen more than half of the dozen baggage carousels in use.

The Harper government is now talking about resuscitating the Pickering Airport. I think it’s safe to say that most Torontonians still don’t want a new airport east of Toronto. I say to the Harper Government as Robert Stanfield said more than 40 years ago: “The case has not yet been made.”

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