it's time the federal government finally found the nerve to pull the plug on the Toronto Port Authority. The Ottawa-appointed waterfront agency has proved itself to be a complete embarrassment to this city, and its corporate incompetence can no longer be tolerated. If the folks calling the shots from Ottawa want irrefutable proof of this, they need look no further than the TPA's total lack of readiness for the long-anticipated beginning of high-speed ferry service between Toronto and Rochester, New York, in May.
On the American side of the Canada-U. S. border, more than $100 million has been invested in preparation for the maiden voyage of a huge ship capable of carrying about 750 people and 220 vehicles back and forth across Lake Ontario three times a day.
All the Toronto Port Authority had to do is erect its own terminal at the foot of Cherry Street on the Eastern Gap. But with less than 10 weeks to go before the tentatively christened Spirit of Ontario casts off from its Rochester moorings, no such edifice has materialized in the moribund port lands.
"The lack of a terminal," Mayor David Miller says, "is very disappointing, particularly given that this is part of the port authority's core mandate to run a port. If it can't even run a port, what's it doing there? What's the point of having a port authority?"
Initially, the TPA balked at taking financial responsibility for the terminal. But Miller notes it was widely expected that $8 million of a nearly $50-million payment approved by council last year to settle a long-standing property dispute with the TPA would go toward construction of the welcoming facility. But apparently the money has yet to be committed.
No access road has been constructed and, as of last week, no transit service had been arranged in anticipation of the more than 800,000 tourists expected to arrive from across the water over the course of a year.
TPA officials were unavailable for comment when contacted by NOW earlier this week.
"It's hard to be surprised at anything the port authority does," says Miller who convinced council to kill the agency's plans for a bridge for an expanded island airport.
Ferry passengers paying upwards of $500 U.S. for a ticket on the inaugural voyage will go through customs and immigration procedures and be welcomed to Toronto in a tent temporarily erected on the site of the future terminal, amidst rusting cargo containers surrounded by a chain-link fence.
Councillor Kyle Rae has been in contact with politicians from Rochester council and both the New York State Senate and House of Representatives who can't believe the TPA has taken such a lackadaisical approach to the ferry service. Never mind that Henry Pankratz, the port authority chair, heralded it as "great economic news for both cities, as we will be opening up a unique bridge between the United States and Canada," when he signed a memorandum of agreement with ferry company Canadian American Transportation Systems (CATS) last August.
"Members of our inept port authority were completely mesmerized by their mistaken fantasies over the bridge to the money-losing island airport instead of focusing their attention on a business that would make them money," argues Rae, chair of the Toronto south community council, which has the downtown waterfront as part of its jurisdiction.
"For the port authority to have dropped this ball, they should be out of business," he adds. "They've done nothing. They've failed the test. We should take them out of the picture."
Brian Ashton, the councillor who chairs the city's economic development committee, said he was startled to learn that a tent would serve as Toronto's terminal when the ferry service begins. "The reality that the port authority has been unable to meet timelines to build a terminal that is going to generate revenue for them speaks to some level of aloofness or incompetence," he maintains.
"It absolutely baffles me. The ferry project was right in their face and has been there for about four years. The service is largely to the benefit of Toronto, and much of the revenue stream would go to the port authority, which is crying poor all the time. I guess, unless it has wings, it doesn't float for them."
Miller points out that the previous council passed a motion calling on the federal government to abolish the Toronto Port Authority, and "this kind of fiasco provides even more evidence" that such action is necessary.
"Of course it's embarrassing," Miller says of the tent terminal. "People who come from all over the U.S. to take this ferry won't know that they're pulling up at a port authority fiasco. They'll arrive here and their first impression will be that we have a derelict city. We're putting our worst foot forward."
We'd suggest the good foot be used to give the port authority the boot. The sooner the better.