It has been a few years since I’ve written about a discredited former Globe and Mail columnist by the name of John Barber (see prior post “Barber’s Blazing Beretta” Jan 28-09). The reason being, at least from the perspective of an outsider, was that the Globe’s management finally got tired of his biased invective and took away his municipal column several years ago — leaving him with no platform to pursue his decade-long vendetta against Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport and its governing body, PortsToronto.
In a strange twist of fate, Mr. Barber has found a new vehicle for his specious airport tales: The Toronto Daily Star. Apparently, the Star knew nothing about the fact that Mr. Barber’s former employers had to deal with a defamation action in relation to his coverage of the airport and its governing body, in addition to the same kind of erroneous material that he is now peddling via last weekend’s Star. And while his most recent Star column falls under an “opinion/commentary” headline, one would assume that the Star would be interested in i) accuracy, and ii) avoiding the appearance that it is aiding a Globe and Mail castoff in his pursuit of a long-standing vendetta.
A couple of my Twitter followers asked for a description of Mr. Barber’s most recent falsehoods, and I’m only too happy to oblige:
Mr. Barber’s claim:
“three century-old ferries so decrepit federal authorities have repeatedly threatened to decommission them in the name of public safety — and probably should. (Instead, Transport Canada has settled on the crude expedient of cutting the antique fleet’s permitted passenger loads, presumably to limit losses from the anticipated disaster.)”
Mr. Barber declines to mention that the ferries in question are owned and operated by the City of Toronto.
“handsomely subsidized island airport”
Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is not subsidized and receives no funding from any level of government. PortsToronto, as owner and operator of Billy Bishop Airport, receives no Federal grants (by law) and is entirely financially self-sufficient. Barber knows all of this as a result of his earlier litigation experience. In addition, PortsToronto paid $2.4 million in gross royalty charges to the Federal government for 2014, and an additional $2.9 million in Payments In Lieu Of Taxes to the City of Toronto. Rather than receive a “subsidy,” as Mr. Barber claims, PortsToronto and Billy Bishop Airport are a direct net contributor to the public purse.
“…their almost-new ferry soon to be replaced by a brand-new pedestrian tunnel built by a public authority for more than $80 million.”
The Marilyn Bell I ferry to Billy Bishop Airport, acquired in 2009 (without taxpayer dollars), is not being “replaced” by the pedestrian tunnel, given that the airport will still need to provide regular ferry access for Ornge ambulances, as well as catering, fuel and delivery trucks, for example. The new tunnel is required to improve the passenger experience, and became warranted after passenger traffic increased from ~25,000 passengers per annum a few years ago to more than 2 million. Modest local traffic surges will also be moderated, which is an added bonus.
Moreover, PortsToronto financed the $82.5 million pedestrian tunnel under a Public-Private Partnership model, financed completely by Airport Improvement Fees collected from Billy Bishop Airport passengers. The use of the “public authority” language, when combined with the earlier “handsomely subsidized” claim, leaves readers with the impression that Federal taxpayers are subsidizing the construction of the tunnel. To be clear, there are no taxpayer dollars involved in the construction or maintenance of the tunnel. This is irrefutable.
In fact, it is Billy Bishop Airport passengers who subsidized the City of Toronto when PortsToronto agreed that new city water and sewer mains could be combined with the tunnel project, saving City taxpayers $10 million on their own, previously-announced utility main upgrade project (which dated to the era of former Mayor David Miller).
“Or maybe the airport will have already gone bust by then, and Torontonians will finally realize they don’t need any ferries to reclaim this precious stolen property.”
Billy Bishop Airport was built on land that was largely a silty swamp in the early 1930s, reclaimed from Toronto Harbour by a predecessor agency to PortsToronto. It was “stolen” from no one, as in evidenced by photographs taken at the time.
I’ve written to the Star’s public editor, Kathy English. One can only hope that she will put a stop to Mr. Barber, at least on this topic, once and for all.
(disclosure – this blog, as always, is an Opinion Piece, reflecting a personal view, and in no way represents the views of PortsToronto, its Board/Staff or the federal government)