Fear of flying

Talk about déjà vu all over again. Pickering Airport is back in the news. It first became an issue during the 1972 federal election after the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau planned to build a passenger airport east of Toronto. Toronto International Airport would soon be stretched to the limit, they claimed. (The Pearson name wasn’t adopted until 1984.) Plus, construction was under way on Mirabel Airport north of Montreal. Maybe the Liberals thought Torontonians might like a new airport, too.

I was working for Opposition Leader Robert Stanfield. He asked me to write a research paper and make a recommendation. I did so, and reported that the majority of people living in what was then called the Golden Horseshoe didn’t want a new airport. Construction would be disruptive, planes would buzz their houses, and excellent agricultural land would be forever lost.

I recommended Stanfield come out against Pickering. Once an election was called for October 30, we knew a decision was needed on the topic. Half-way through the two-month-long campaign, Stanfield happened to be staying overnight in Toronto so there was pressure to make a comment on Pickering. We announced a news conference for the next morning but did not specify the topic, just in case consensus could not be reached. Around 10 p.m., a small group gathered in someone’s hotel room to find a position and draft suitable words. They included staff speechwriter Bill Grogan; long-time advisor and wordsmith Dalton Camp; Geoff Molyneux from the research office; and me.

Some drink was taken; many hours passed. It was likely Dalton who finally came up with the phrase: “The case for a second airport has not been made.” Brilliant! Stanfield was neither saying he was in favour nor against; he was simply declaring that more study and/or persuasion were required. The news conference passed muster; the media used the soundbite. Today, as I hear about the desire to resurrect Pickering Airport, I can only say: “The case for a second airport still has not been made.”

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