Barbara Hall is making life difficult for Kyle Rae these days. People are always asking the downtown councillor how he can support Hall's campaign to be the next mayor of Toronto when she's publicly backing a controversial project that he absolutely abhors. We're talking about the plan to build a bridge to an expanded Toronto Island Airport, of course. The one airline entrepreneur Robert Deluce wants so he can have another go at a transportation business that's sinking deeper into the corporate quicksand with each passing day.
"An airport is compatible with a beautiful green waterfront, and we don't have to be afraid of it," Hall told the local board of trade last week during a mayoral debate at its Bay Street headquarters.
Damned if she didn't sound just like all the right-wing candidates sitting around the breakfast table in the trade board's well-appointed dining room. John Nunziata, the ex-MP, is all for the waterfront airport. Pinocchio Jakobek, the former budget chief, was gung-ho, too. John Tory said he was "cautiously supportive" of the scheme.
Only councillor David Miller spoke in opposition to the "short-sighted" bridge-and-runway plan.
"You can't settle for mediocre," he said. "You've got to have excellence."
Kyle Rae can't argue with that statement. And it pains him that Hall, his friend and one-time mentor, doesn't seem to understand that the airport issue has changed dramatically since she supported it as mayor of the old pre-amalgamation Toronto.
"She's got the wrong position on this," Rae says. "People who support the bridge haven't figured out that there's a new waterfront opportunity here and the airport shouldn't be part of it."
Never mind that the project will be paid for with taxpayers' dollars if council approves an outrageous legal settlement with the Toronto Port Authority. The matter goes before the policy and finance committee next week and to council later this month.
Rae concedes that Hall has handed Miller an issue he can call his own and readily point to as evidence that he's the real progressive choice for chief magistrate on November 10.
"I've told her, 'You need to be revisiting your position on this,'" he says. "She made a decision some years ago, and I think she's having a difficult time analyzing and finding a way to change her position."
That said, Rae maintains that the airport is just a single issue, one that doesn't seem to count for much outside of a small area in the city centre.
"It's very important to people on the waterfront, people in the condos and people on the islands, but beyond that it's not appearing as an issue," Rae advises. "This is unfortunate, because if more people were saying to Barbara, 'It's a problem beyond the downtown,' she might be listening."
Councillor Joe Pantalone, like Hall, once supported building a bridge to the airport back in his old Metro council days.
"It seemed to make sense at that time," he recalls. "But the evolution of the waterfront is such that it doesn't make sense any more. It's a vision of yesterday. It's not a vision of today and the future."
It was Miller's opposition to the airport that helped convince Pantalone to support his colleague's mayoralty ambitions over those of Hall.
"David has been on the front lines and is able to understand the nuances of the changes that have occurred since amalgamation," he says. "Anyone who comes from the outside or who has been out of this place for a number of years has a tremendous disadvantage."
Still, Hall has had the upper hand in early public opinion surveys of mayoral preference. She was 20 percentage points ahead of both Miller and Nunziata in an Environics polls published early last month. Tory and Jakobek were even further back in the back.
But Jakobek's candidacy was dealt a deathly blow when he confessed to the Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry that he lied about his presence on a plane that MFP salesman Dash Domi chartered to Philadelphia for a Maple Leafs playoff game in 1999. And Tory's campaign has stalled and is in danger of rolling backward in spite of all the support it's getting from the likes of Paul Godfrey and the crowd that backed Mel Lastman into the mayor's chair.
What happens if Hall's lead in the polls continues to slip (it went from 50 per cent to 33 per cent between January and May), Tory's support collapses and Miller and Nunziata continue to make gains?
While Tory's hard-right supporters would likely go Nunziata's way, they are in the minority. The former Rogers Cable executive's core supporters are centrists who would be more likely to head in the direction of Hall and Miller than toward the former renegade parliamentarian who has been described as a young Mel Lastman without the benefit of hair plugs.
The myth about Hall and Miller being locked in a battle to the political death for left-of-centre voters suddenly explodes. They will really be in competition for centre-right support. And it will be worth recalling Tory's recent remarks expressing "cautious support" for the bridge to the island landing strip.
"We have to establish that the airport is viable," he said before making a pointed reference to "turbulence in the airline industry."
Kyle Rae might want to work on Barbara Hall just a little bit harder.