Both sides on the future of the Pickering lands northeast of Toronto are gearing up for a renewal of the debate over a proposed major airport in the coming year. Local politicians who favour development of the airport are ramping up their efforts to get the federal government to move on the almost-50-year-old proposal that has created simmering discord among local residents since the first Trudeau government bought 16,800 acres of mostly prime farmland in 1972. The recent closure of the General Motors plant in Oshawa has added a new facet to the debate as pro-airport politicians look for a replacement for the high-paying jobs that were lost. “We have a tremendous opportunity here to do something that really has never been done before,” Durham Region Chair John Henry told CBC Toronto. “It’s time that we get on with this and the government finally makes a decision.” Henry said the airport could create 150,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Meanwhile anti-airport forces, some of whom lease the land for agriculture, argue that taking carbon-absorbing land out of production to replace it with hundreds of aircraft movements a day is environmentally irresponsible. “In the age of climate crisis, we just can’t afford business as usual,” said Mary Delaney, chair of the airport opposition group Land Over Landings. “The threat of an airport on these lands has to be lifted and the lands have to be protected in perpetuity.”
The final decision, of course, will be the federal government’s and technically that should be based on the need for more airport capacity in the region and the freshly-elected minority government has reportedly received an updated study on that topic. Henry and other airport supporters are urging Ottawa to release the study and get the ball rolling on the megaproject. So far, the feds have not said anything one way or another.