Feb 18, 2014 - Literary

No Brain IS an Island Airport Expansion


Image by James Cridland with text design by Mariel Marshall

Today the Toronto Star published an opinion piece by the man who holds the reins of power over the island airport. His name is Geoffrey A. Wilson and he is the president and CEO of the Toronto Port Authority which is asking Toronto’s city council to expand Billy Bishop airport. He claims that his aim is to “do no harm” and he certainly tries hard to strike a reasoned tone in an article that is mostly unreasonable guff.

He says we need to focus on the facts regarding the airport–a point I agree with him on. But he denies that the proposed Porter expansion will grow Billy Bishop to the size of the Ottawa airport. Of course, Billy Bishop won’t be the physical size of Ottawa. There isn’t room to physically grow a regional airport on a tiny island in our harbour–a fact that our citizen groups have been pointing out for at least twelve years.

But the proposed expansion (if it is approved by Toronto’s city council next month) means that Billy Bishop will have the capacity to have MORE passengers than the Ottawa airport per year. The proposed expansion means that 4.6 to 4.8 million passengers can pass through Billy Bishop each year. The Ottawa International airport currently has 4.6 passengers each year.

Oops! Mr. Wilson conveniently forgot to mention this very basic fact. Nor does he mention that growing Billy Bishop will bring more traffic and jet fuel emissions to an already challenged environment. I am sick and tired of our newspapers running mostly pro-expansion stories about the island airport so I am committing this blog to reporting the facts about what an expanded island airport means for the rest of us.

By the way, I live in the Annex but that doesn’t mean it’s in my interests to ignore a debate that is going to shape our city’s future and the lives of our children and grandchildren.

There are more F-A-C-T-S on this link. www.nojetsto.ca

Mr. Wilson’s opinion piece is at www.thestar.com

More tomorrow.



We all cherish the Toronto waterfront as a place to live, work and play. But our waterfront as we know it could soon be scarred by an expanded Toronto Island airport with jet aircraft. An expansion that  will bring noise, pollution and more gridlock – paid by our tax dollars.

Toronto’s Board of Health, Waterfront Toronto and high-profile Torontonians and organizations have spoken out against the jet plans, but Porter is pushing City Council to give the green light even before all studies have been done.

It all comes down to how City Council votes in April 2014. By speaking out today you can do your part to save Toronto’s waterfront. Fill out the form and your city councillor will receive an email urging him/her to stop the Pearson-by-the-Lake. Sign the petition here: http://www.nojetsto.ca/take-action/

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Feb 14, 2014 - Literary    3 Comments

No Brain is an Island Airport (expansion)


Image by BriYYZ

In a short story, I once wrote that a human being grows slower than any creature in the universe … slower than dogs or roses… And our slow evolution is obvious when I see what’s going on with the new plan to expand the island airport. Do we really need to wait until the waterfront is no longer liveable, when people and businesses move out of downtown Toronto because the air is poisoned, and the noise unbearable? In the interest of hurrying our slow, sloth-like tendency to respond too late to choices that are bad for us, I’m starting a new series of interviews with people who live under the planes. They can tell us what it really feels, hears and smells like right now in downtown Toronto. Our daily newspapers aren’t giving us this information; Porter Airlines spends too much money on ads for the newspapers to rock the boat so I’m going to provide some of the missing information on my blog. The following is an interview with Barbara, who lives on Bathurst Quay.

When I moved to Bathurst Quay 28 years ago, the island airport was a sleepy little airport. We thought it would remain little and sleepy because we were told we were protected by the Tripartite Agreement.

Since 2006, everything has changed here. Huge fuel trucks pass daily in front of schoolchildren and other pedestrians. Taxis speed through the intersection to the airport, almost knocking us over. Airport limousines and private cars idle in the no parking area in front of our wheelchair ramp. They also line up idling in the bicycle lane on Queens Quay next to the park. The drivers get mad and refuse to move when we point out that it is a bicycle lane and that idling is illegal. I wake up between 6:30 and 6:45 every morning when the engine run-ups and turboprop takeoffs and landings start. We can no longer eat dinner on our balcony because the noise is unpleasant and fairly constant now, and we often can’t hear others speaking.

I recently had a landmark birthday. I wanted to plan a big party and invite friends from far and wide to celebrate with me. Then I realized–I can’t have a big party. The airport has filled all the parking lots in our area, and there is nowhere for my friends to park.

(Out-of-town Visitors to Harbourfront, who complain of scarce parking, will find it even scarcer this summer, now that Porter Airlines has made a deal for airport parking with the parking garage across the street from Harbourfront Centre.)

I developed a chronic lung condition (a form of COPD) in 2009. I can’t afford to move to a part of Toronto with better air. I understand that even the current level of air pollution, and surely airport expansion will shorten my life.


  • Convenience for the wealthy few; health problems and dangerous air traffic for the rest— we really shouldn’t allow any further expansion of Porter.

  • I loved the airport in the days when you could watch a two seater practice landings on the grass. Long lazy afternoons of this, but they are gone.
    As a resident of South Central Toronto, and a daily user of Cherry Beach, I have watched the frequency of planes increase to the point where you can watch a “rush hour” of plane traffic. Make it jets? I’ll fight it.
    I would love every politician who is in favor of this to go kayaking or canoeing near the airport. We now avoid the inner harbor completely. The last time we tried it, the asthma inhaler spent more time in my hand than the paddle.
    I commend the Toronto Public Health officials who are trying to bring these matters to the attention of the public. And Susan, as a fellow non-smoking COPD sufferer, I understand your frustration with this intrusion into our lungs.
    Thanks for writing this and I hope it gets a lot of attention.

  • The sleepy little airport is now awake. In the intervening 28 years the population of the GTA has been increasing by nearly 100,000 people annually, a trend that the provincial Ministry of Finance projects to continue. Although the tens of thousands of workers and residents housed in the towers in the central business district and along the lake created a demand for air transportation, the demand was under served. Porter seized the opportunity and has successfully brought Billy Bishop out of its hibernation to the benefit of travellers and the city as a whole. Whether the company has been successful is an unanswered question. The most recent financial information was contained in the IPO that was suspended in 2011 and in early 2013 the company stopped releasing the monthly operating statistics that are common in the industry. Air Canada and Westjet currently have system wide load factors (the percentage of available capacity that is actually used) approaching 90%. In 2012, the last full year of data in the public domain, Porter’s system wide load factor was only around 60% giving it considerable room to grow even without introducing larger aircraft and long haul routes.
    The scope and impacts of the full airport expansion program have yet to be disclosed. Will the larger aircraft require new and larger hangars on the island for line maintenance? How will the apron accommodate the larger aircraft? Will the increased number of passengers on each flight with more baggage require terminal expansion? Is pre-clearance still being considered? How will the already stressed groundside cope with the increase in hourly passenger volume due to larger aircraft or any increase in load factor? Will changes to de-icing methods or collection systems be required to contain spent fluids? Will short haul flights be displaced by long haul flights? Who will backstop the debt by providing a revenue stream if Porter fails? The list goes on. Sadly, the people who raise these issues are treated to a game of verbal “whack-a-mole” in which they do not hold the mallet.
    In the simplest form airports consist of three interdependent systems – airside, terminal and groundside. The capacity and processing rates of all three systems must be in balance for the airport to operate efficiently and without congestion. Eventually expansion at any airport will be restricted by the limitations of one system or even one sub system. Decisions made by TPA with respect to the airside and terminal will affect the groundside. As this mainly lies beyond the airport boundaries and is largely the city’s responsibility to manage, it is essential for the two organizations to collaborate on all three systems. The objective is not to find ways of shoehorning the biggest airport possible into a confined space. Rather it is to define the size and type of airport most compatible with the greater plan and then live within those bounds.
    In a previous entry on this blog I stated “the island airport is important but parameters need to be in place to optimize the region’s aviation assets and provide a suitable balance between the needs of travelers, neighbouring communities and waterfront development.” I then suggested some measures to achieve that balance as a starting point for the discussion. Continuing on, the three airport systems need to be in equilibrium. A close examination of the groundside – roads, curbs, short and long term parking, ground transportation, local traffic patterns etc – is necessary before any informed decision on runway expansion can be made. It may find that the airport’s limits have already been reached, if not surpassed.

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Feb 13, 2014 - Literary    1 Comment

Anxiety Pancakes: Life in the Middle of a Novel (Day Fourteen)


Photo by Tambako

I have a monkey on my back. The first time I noticed it I was in Grade 2. I remember my six-year-old self going round and round my house in a snow suit while a little voice inside said–you need to work harder. You shouldn’t just be swaggering about in the snow like this. Don’t play. Be serious. Get to work.

I still hear the chiding voice. When I was a reporter, it was even louder. The desk editor Don Grant used to shout at me–don’t think, Susan! Write! I did what he said: I wrote. In those days, there were five editions of a daily newspaper and when I was covering a fast-breaking story I’d have to update the story four times a day. Veteran reporters used to call in their stories, composing it into the phone while they glanced at their notes, and somebody in the office typed up what they said. The ability of these veterans amazed me; then I learned to do it too.

But writing a novel isn’t like phoning in a newspaper story. And the voice in my head isn’t helpful. Oh, it gets me to sit down at my desk every day. But once I’m in my chair, not only do I need to think, I need to play. In fact, a lot of novel writing is about taking your time instead of rushing; it’s about playing with ideas and letting yourself day dream.

So I have a new plan as I start the last section of my book. I am going to play all the way through to the end. I am not going to spend hours and hours revising as I go along, which is what I’ve been doing until now. I’m going to dictate my final chapters, (yes, I know, that’s a link to phoning in the story); get my chapters typed up, and then I’ll spend the rest of the day swimming and wool gathering and generally goofing off.

Until the monkey on my back ruins everything by shrieking, “You really should get back to work!”

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Feb 5, 2014 - Literary    2 Comments

Anxiety Pancakes: Life in the Middle of a Novel (Day Thirteen)



Image by Jonathan Moreau

In my last blog, I admitted that I’m moving out of the middle of the novel. What does that mean, really? It means that I’m starting the drive to the finish line and there are a number of plotting details I need to be clear about before I go there. So I’ll be taking time away from the blog to think through different scenarios and see which ones are going to work best for my story. And then I’ll report back here on how it’s going.

Meanwhile, I’ll be reminding myself of Alberto Manguel’s axiom: what the story needs is the first law of fiction. Not which of my favourite passages I want to keep. And not the ending that I had my heart set on but the passages and ending that move my story forward. So I may throw away some of the triggering ideas that started me writing my story–if the story asks for that sacrifice.

But most of all, I’ll be dealing with plot, or the lack of it. The late Hugh Kenner (who borrowed the axiom from another writer) once explained plot to me this way: the king dies, the queen dies–that is not a plot. But the king dies and the queen dies of grief is a plot because there is a causal connection between the first event and the second.

Manguel and Kenner are both critics and neither of them would be foolish enough to utter a rule that’s set in stone. Most axioms about writing are only guidelines because fiction writing is an evolving tradition. Many younger writers are moving away from plot and giving the reader instead the experience of being closer to a self, as the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard put it. And the New Yorker critic James Wood claims plot works like a burdensome and predictable caravan in most contemporary novels. I know what he means. The last thing I want to do is freight my story with a creaking plot line.

So I’m really talking about my story’s trajectory. How will it evolve? There’s something exciting about the last part of the novel writing process. The uneasy, doldrumish feeling of being in the middle of the novel is shifting into a faster, more thrilling sensation. The joy of finishing is like plunging backwards over a fizzing waterfall. Or maybe it’s more like the rush of spring light that starts to brighten our lives. The momentum brings with it the gathering up of confidence as characters and events coalesce.

There will be time enough when I’m revising to start eating anxiety pancakes again.


  • waving fondly from this icy shore….
    safe journey.
    though not without adventures.

  • Bon appétit !

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