Anxiety Pancakes: Life in the Middle of a Novel (day ten)


Image by John Wardell 

I know I said I was going to write about a Hollywood shrink called Barry Michels today who has good advice for writers. But I’m moving Barry to tomorrow’s blog because yesterday I ran into one of the temptations of the novelist. What’s that? Simple. It’s called politics.

Last night I went to the meeting at City Hall to discuss the proposal by Porter Airlines to bring bigger jets and more passengers to the island airport. A crowd of about 500 showed up. About forty in the audience were backing Porter. They wore round yellow Porter buttons on their lapels. A sweet, fresh-faced young woman politely offered me a Porter button as I went in. I politely refused it and told her I felt an expanded airport would make Toronto’s air and water even more polluted than it already is. She recoiled in shock.

As the evening ground on, I found myself staring at the Porter contingent, trying to figure them out. It struck me that they really do believe they are doing Toronto a favour by bringing more business to the city through their airlines. So why can’t we make it bigger and better, they reason. A number of my friends fly Porter. They’ve told me it is a friendly and well-run airline without the hassles of Pearson. I believe them. Porter seems to have done a good job building up its clientele.

There’s only one problem: the airport is making a mess of our waterfront. Residents in the buildings by the harbour report a new sticky black residue on their balconies since Porter expanded in 2006. They suffer from window-rattling noise from the planes. In some cases, the planes take off only 200 metres away from their homes–a distance that would never be allowed at Pearson, where the homes around the airport have been built at a required distance. Unfortunately, many of the downtown condos were put up before Porter increased its passenger numbers to well over two million a year.

People are starting to move out from some of the downtown co-ops because they can’t stand the new traffic jams on their streets, along with the noise and the bad air, and likely more will go if the airport expands. Sailors are upset; so are arts organizers like Tamara Bernstein who runs concerts by the harbour. She says the noise of the planes taking off interferes with their public events.

So why doesn’t the Porter crowd understand that their airport has a noxious impact on the environment? Because they claim it doesn’t. Not a “significant” impact anyway. The Toronto Board of Health has recently said no to the expansion because it says the airport is bad for our health. But the Toronto Port Authority who runs the airport says the environmental impact is not “significant.” It’s hard not to think of the backers of the airport expansion as frogs in a slowly boiling pot, frogs that ribbett reassurances that yes, the water is a bit warmer than it was, but not overly warm, and certainly not tropical temperatures, at least not yet.

Last night a man from Transport Canada spoke about its responsibility to certify the new jets that Porter wants to bring in. He never mentioned that it is his job to look at jet emissions or jet noise although it is his job to see if the noise and emissions are bad for the environment. He talked a lot about making sure the construction of the proposed extended runways didn’t interfere with the flights that are on going at the airport. His words weren’t exactly reassuring.

Why can’t our public officials be more honest about what we’re doing to the environment? Is it too scary to face up to what’s happening so it’s easier to close your eyes and rush forward with business plans that make a deteriorating situation worse? Another big problem is the media. These days they don’t do investigative reporting unless it falls into their laps like the Rob Ford crack video. Newspapers can’t spare the money for this kind of reporting because the Internet has taken away much of their advertising revenue. TV news still gets most of their information from the dailies so they aren’t big on investigative reporting either. The result? The public is unable to make informed decisions about issues like the airport expansion.

And that brings me back to the temptations of the novelist. Yes, I am getting politically involved again because our journalists aren’t writing courageously about what’s happening.

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