"Breaking," the Globe's Ann Hui tweeted late Wednesday night, upon the conclusion of a special meeting of Council's Executive Committee. "Toronto moves one step closer to allowing talks on jets, expansion of island airport."
But the Toronto Star saw it differently. "#breaking," they tweeted about half an hour later. "Toronto executive committee puts the brakes on island airport expansion."
Both summaries were accurate.
Councillor Peter Milczyn's motion to halt all talk of jets at the airport failed (on a vote of 1-11). But so did Mayor Rob Ford's motion to jump to the end of the process and grant immediate, conditional approval to Porter's proposal. (He received support from only councillors Giorgio Mammoliti, Vincent Crisanti, and Frank Di Giorgio.)
Instead, and as expected, the committee adopted the staff recommendations to engage in a cautious, measured process of study and negotiation. It's a move in the direction of expansion, yes, but one unlikely to ever reach that destination. Porter could go belly up; a new mayor and a new council could have different priorities; the CS-100 jets could prove to be less quiet than promised or the environmental assessment might not turn out to be terribly favourable to runway extension. When a company rallies for urgent acceptance of massively ambitious plans requiring new infrastructure and regulatory overhaul, it's a pretty good sign they're concerned about what could happen if the scheme were held up to comprehensive scrutiny.
The committee's endorsement of the staff recommendations will be forwarded on to the next meeting of the full City Council, April 1-2, where the outcome is far less of a foregone conclusion. Porter's opponents could potentially round up the votes to kill the proposal outright or, failing that, attach certain conditions that would render it unviable.
Meanwhile, lobbying firm Sussex Strategy Group (which you may remember from such campaigns as MGM Resorts' "hey, let's build a casino at the Ex") continues to work for Porter behind the scenes. JP Boutros, a former advisor to Karen Stintz who is now running to succeed her in ward 16, described Porter's lobbying as being "of an intensity I have never witnessed in Toronto's recent history."
Boutros was planning on saying as much in a deputation, but was too far down the list to get to speak. With 190 people signed up to address councillors, the committee chose to limit their time to 3 minutes each and cut off all deputants at 7 pm.
They still managed to hear from 93 people over eight hours, whose presentations ranged the typical gamut from nuanced to frothing, from earnest to theatrical. A majority were opposed to airport expansion, and most of those who did speak in favour described themselves as employees of Porter or otherwise connected to the industry.
"Getting the vote out of Council today and letting it go forward on a very definitive path is good news for all of us," said Porter CEO Robert Deluce at meeting's end. He hailed the committee's "unanimous" approval, oddly overlooking Peter Milczyn's dissent.
Porter foe Councillor Adam Vaughan also claimed a kind of victory. "Mr. Deluce wanted an approval by last July - he didn't get it. He wanted an approval by Christmas - he didn't get it. He wanted an approval in this term of Council - he's not getting it," said Vaughan. "And that's because, quite frankly, no one on Council is prepared to say yes. The only thing we're prepared to say right now is 'no,' because the information hasn't been presented to us. So, yes, we live to fight another day, there will be another battle in the next term of Council.
"The only politician who's running for mayor who stands with Mr. Deluce is Mr. Ford, and that should tell you everything about the quality of his idea."