The Toronto Port Authority headquarters on Harbour Street. Harbour Sixty Steakhouse is on the main floor.
Until recently, Adam Vaughan wanted to destroy the Toronto Port Authority. Now he wants to fix it.
He even admonishes those who hold his former opinion as being hopelessly naive.
In a Rogers TV debate prior to the June 30 by-election that saw the former councillor elected as the new Liberal MP for Trinity-Spadina, opponent Joe Cressy expressed the NDP's desire to dissolve the self-described government business enterprise and hand its assets - including the Island airport - back to the City of Toronto. In response, Vaughan chastised Cressy for making the "most irresponsible statement you can possibly make."
In an interview following the debate, Vaughan didn't deny that his new preference for salvaging the federal agency had something to do with the fact that he was now running for the party that created it in the late 1990s. But not in the way you think, and he reacts with expected derision to any implication that his change of heart might have been made with anything other than the best interests of waterfront constituents in mind.
Vaughn would like to reconstitute the board to include members chosen by local residents associations, cultural agencies, and recreational groups, in addition to businesses, "so that you have all of the interests of the waterfront represented on the Port Authority, not simply the industrial ones."
He says he had this epiphany while speaking to CP24 not long after declaring he'd seek the party's nomination. Asked by the station what he planned to do about the proposal to fly jets out of the city centre airport, he said he felt confident that his Council motions had already hampered that plan.
"And it suddenly occurred to me, in the middle of that interview: we can now change the Port Authority," Vaughan recalled. "The task and the challenge that sits in front of us now is to stop the Port Authority being the vehicle of expansion ... We could actually change the Port Authority to be a check and a balance against the City Council that I've been fighting for eight years."
Vaughan's experience on Council appears to have destroyed any faith he might have had in councillors' ability to protect waterfront interests. He points out that when the Tripartite Agreement governing operation of the airport - and prohibiting jets there - was signed in 1983, the three parties to it were the federal government, the Toronto Harbour Commissioners (the largely City-controlled forerunner to the TPA), and the pre-amalgamation City of Toronto. "Virtually every ward except for about four were waterfront politicians," he says, "and therefore they were sensitive to the issues and City Council was the check and the balance against federal expansionism."
But now Porter Airlines exists and is a powerful lobbying interest at a larger Council with a different political dynamic. "And as a result of that," he says, "if you were to get rid of the Port Authority, and dump the Tripartite Agreement in the lap of someone like, I dunno, Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, or someone like Mayor Rob Ford, or put it in the hands of Economic Development with Michael Thompson, you would end up in a situation where you'd also have the Bombardier folks rattling the cages of Maria Augimeri and Anthony Perruzza," left-leaning councillors who are keen on protecting unionized aircraft manufacturing jobs in the Downsview area they represent.
Vaughan found it was thus "almost impossible to guarantee waterfront neighbourhoods which I represented that I [could] marshal the 23 votes to protect the status quo, let alone defend against really aggressive expansion plans."
He says he sat down with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau's office and told them about his reform idea and asked if he could say that that was party policy. "To which I was told, 'That's now Liberal policy. Run with it.'"
When Vaughan explained his new inclination toward salvation during the Rogers debate, QP Briefing reporter John Michael McGrath mockingly tweeted, "Ahahahaha now someone ask about the OMB."
And TPA board chair Mark McQueen similarly snarked that "by reformed, @TOAdamVaughan means a TPA controlled by him, rather than someone else."
McQueen declines to comment directly on Vaughan's proposal when reached by email this week but does offer that "Vaughan may have forgotten that [the TPA's mandate was] originally drafted and enacted by the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. The current TPA Board is charged with fulfilling that mandate, but I disagree with any characterization that it is geared towards 'industrial users.' The Outer Harbour Marina, for example, is the largest freshwater marina in North America - and recently benefited from a multi-million dollar upgrade of docks, storage facilities, and so forth."
Joe Cressy certainly wasn't a fan of Vaughan's idea. After the Rogers debate, he told NOW that "the challenge is not to replace Liberal backroomers with Conservative ones, or Conservative with Liberal ones, it's to give control of the port back to the city so that we can deal with waterfront issues within our own boundaries."
The NDP candidate was skeptical that even a board comprised of members selected for relevant expertise should have the ability to act as a restraint on Council. "Welcome to the Senate all over again, right?" he said. "We need unelected, undemocratic checks on elected representatives? If you want to stop jets flying out of the Island airport, you vote for the only mayoralty candidate who opposes jets flying out of the Island airport. That's what you do. You vote for councillors who stand up."
Councillor Pam McConnell also prefers abolition of the TPA. Her ward encompasses the portion of the waterfront between York St. and the mouth of the Don, and includes the Islands but not the Port Lands. (There's some overlap with the federal Trinity-Spadina riding that Vaughan now represents, which runs along the lakeshore from Spencer in the west to Yonge in the east and includes the Islands.)
"I'm not surprised that now that Adam is in Ottawa that he believes that that's where the power should be, but I disagree entirely with him," she says. She has sympathy for his "very tricky situation" as a new Liberal but thinks that Council has actually been pretty good on these issues and is disappointed that he'd "diss" his former colleagues' capacity to deal with them.
"I had hoped that he would take the message to Ottawa that our Council should be more in control of our backyard, or our front yard - 'front porch,' as they call it."
The ward 28 rep believes that decisions concerning "what should and shouldn't happen in the City of Toronto should be in the hands of people who are directly elected" by residents. But she also imagines that, if given control of the TPA's assets, the City would manage them through a committee of some sort that would likely include some citizens members.
Brian Iler, on the other hand, isn't exactly enthusiastic about Vaughan's proposal but is still remarkably okay with it. Iler, a lawyer whose eponymous firm specializes in serving "socially-minded clients," is the chair of CommunityAIR, a group that has long pushed for elimination of the Island airport and been a thorn in the TPA's side. (It's not to be confused with NoJetsTO, a newer group that's been more prominent in recent fights and that advocates for maintaining the status quo at the airport.)
"I think what Adam is viewing is the Waterfront Toronto model [that] works incredibly well for our city, where we have all three levels of government collaborating and we have essentially a veto on all three sides," he says.
Iler is "favourably disposed" to the idea of folding the TPA in to "something like Waterfront Toronto, which has a much more acceptable vision of what our waterfront can be and where it's going."
But does it make sense to keep it as a federal agency as opposed to a City agency or other such thing that'd be subject to Council?
"That cuts both ways," he says. "When we have a good, progressive Council that listens to the needs of its citizens, you get good government and you get good governance for the waterfront. But when you have the regime like we have right now, it would be a disaster." Iler also happens to be the man who launched the Code of Conduct complaint against Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti that resulted in Wednesday's Council decision to dock him three months' pay.
He gets Vaughan's frustration and reluctance to hand councillors the keys. "If I were in his shoes," he says, "I'd be pretty jaded, too."