Liberal incumbent Tony Ianno looked like a man under siege as he tried to withstand a hail of hostile questions from 500 waterfront residents gathered at the Harbourfront Community Centre for an all-candidates meeting Sunday, January 8.
Ianno was the obvious target. Each inquiry was an opportunity for residents irate about the Toronto Port Authority and ongoing Island Airport expansion talks to heckle and jeer.
Their message was clear: squash plans for airport expansion and fix the "rogue" federally run TPA. Not even moderator Susan Swan could hide her bias, pinning him down with tough questions about his complacency over the years on the issue.
The end may be near for Ianno, who won by 804 votes last time. He's among the cabal of Liberal MPs who've been in Ottawa since 93 but have failed to deliver on a host of promises, especially on the waterfront, where money is only now flowing in the heat of a no-holds-barred election race.
Redress for survivors of the Chinese head tax is another issue that's exploded in Ianno's face and shaken the Chinese base he's relied on in the past to topple NDPer Olivia Chow.
And if the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship scandal isn't enough to sully the Liberals here, there are also questions about where $13 million of a $35 million bailout of the TPA ended up.
Then there's the matter of transparency over Ianno's own campaign donations. The names of only 15 contributors turn up on his 2004 campaign list, and they donated a total of $5,220. Almost all the money for his campaign, some $67,945, came from a single transfer of cash. Candidates are allowed to put donations made to riding associations on their behalf in trust, but the names of those contributors don't have to be made public. Ianno told the meeting he has nothing to hide, but if consitutents don't know who his contributors are, how can they be sure on whose behalf Ianno's working?
By the end of Sunday's two-hour-plus onslaught, Ianno was willing to tell anyone who'd listen that "in terms of expanding the airport, I'm not in favour of that," possibly assuming that everyone has been in a coma while he and the Liberals bumbled through the Island Airport debacle over the past few years.
Fact is, the feds see expansion as a necessity if the airport is going to stay afloat. The airport lost $2.7 million last year, meaning the feds had to subsidize each round-trip ticket by $275. If it weren't for relief from taxpayer funds, the Authority would have gone under long ago.
The city keeps asking for the return of its Port Authority and the $30 million it owes in back taxes, while the Port Authority and its federal bedfellows keep chugging along as the losses mount.
More worrisome is the way some of these public funds have been handled. Just 10 days before David Miller was elected mayor, the federal Liberals signed a deal with Aecon to build a bridge that everyone knew Miller would kill.
The feds ended up paying a $35 million bailout to the TPA to cover the cost of lawsuits related to the botched bridge deal. And the Authority's not saying exactly where the money went.
"I challenge [Ianno]. Tell us who got the money? When was it given out? When was the deal made?" asked Chow. Ianno remained tight-lipped.
What was clear from the debate was that everyone wants the 215 acres currently occupied by the airport converted to parkland. The question that prompts is at what cost? If the feds were to shut down the airport, Ianno says the government would face $700 million in lawsuits from current Island Airport tenants.
Seems like a reach for an airport that generated a paltry $1.4 million in revenue last year.
How did the Port Authority assume such obligations when clause 55 (3) of the federal/municipal Tripartite Agreement governing the Island Airport stipulates that deals made by the Port Authority are to terminate whenever the airport is closed?
To Ianno, it's all a blur, but he couldn't help taking a shot at the park plan he was supposedly supporting minutes earlier: "With all the money that is being sent down here by some magical person, it will be accomplished. Just wish it. It will happen."
Ianno may point to "realities" getting in the way of park plans for the Island Airport, including the Medevac emergency airlift service that operates out of the facility.
But if anything, moving it would be in the best interests of the people it serves, since 70 per cent of patients are experiencing longer wait times and the service has added 18,000 miles of unnecessary travel since its move from Buttonville, north of the city.
Ianno can run but he can't hide. He is very much responsible for the current mess he helped amend the Marine Act with then MP Dennis Mills, creating the TPA. The Authority has been sinking in debt ever since.