Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Opponents nervous as Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly builds support for Porter's island airport expansion

By: Metro Published on Thu Mar 20 2014

A funny thing happened after Toronto City Council stripped Mayor Rob Ford of most of his powers. It got a whole lot easier for council to approve the sort of thing the mayor generally supports.

Take, for example, the issue of expanding the island airport to accommodate jets. When Ford was still at the helm, Porter CEO Robert Deluce’s jets looked like they’d never get off the ground. Things seemed to be following the same political arc as the casino debate did last year. Instead of working out compromises and building consensus, or even taking the time to allow staff to prepare enough information to make an informed decision, Ford seemed content to try to bully his way through and, when that failed, accept the loss and try to use it as a campaign issue.

After absorbing Ford's stripped powers, Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly— an ardent supporter of the island airport and its expansion — has charted a different course. He’s worked on the issue with city staff. He’s presented a friendlier and more accommodating face when talking to his council colleagues. And as a result, he’s making those who oppose the island airport pretty nervous about what might happen when the expansion item comes before council for a vote next month.

As of now, I count 14 councillors that will likely vote in favour of moving forward with airport expansion, 15 who oppose and 16 undecided. With most of the undecideds leaning towards the left or middle of the political spectrum, I’d still give the slight edge to expansion opponents, but it will be close.

Key votes will come from councillors Peter Milczyn, Ron Moeser, Paul Ainslie, Michelle Berardinetti, Jaye Robinson, Josh Colle, Chin Lee, Ana Bailão, Josh Matlow, Raymond Cho, John Filion and Maria Augimeri. And despite being an early and vocal opponent of the plan, mayoral candidate Karen Stintz’s name continues to come up among opponents as a wildcard who might change her mind. Go figure.

Even if the anti-expansion side ends up winning the vote in April, this issue is a good case study for why even ardent supporters of Ford’s policies are better off voting for literally any other right-leaning candidate. Ford’s problem has always been that he just cannot operate effectively in a collaborative environment like council. He’s never been a smooth operator. Not like Kelly has proven to be on the Porter expansion issue.

Ford’s policies will always be more successfully implemented by someone other than Ford.

There’s a lesson here for Toronto’s left, as well. As much as Ford made progressives angry and embarrassed, he’s been relatively easy to defeat on policy issues, especially over the past few years.

Ford’s political legacy will be more about wasted time and circus acts than it will be about large-scale changes to the way the city works. But if a new right-leaning mayor — even one who presents themselves as far more moderate than Ford — wins election in October, that person could present far more of a challenge to Toronto’s left. Because they’ll know how to play the game.

This post was originally published at on 2014-03-20T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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