The proposal to build an airport in Pickering has been the subject of endless debate among residents in Durham and across the GTA. Mayor Dave Ryan recently affirmed his support for the idea in an article where he outlined a number of supposed economic benefits of having an airport in the east end.
"There is a golden opportunity for the federal government to recoup its initial $150-million investment, generate billions of dollars in new revenues, develop innovation clusters and create thousands of new jobs," he said. "While it may have been premature in 1972, a reliever airport will soon be needed to accommodate our burgeoning population."
Talk of a Pickering airport arose 44 years ago, when Pierre Trudeau purchased a lot of vacant land because he believed it had potential to be a good airport. Roger Anderson, the Durham region chair, is also in support of the idea, and thinks it would be nice if Justin Trudeau "finished [his] dad's legacy and made a decision."
Ryan continued to make his case by referring to the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), who had forecasted that Pearson will reach optimal capacity in 2032, and would have to deal with capacity gap of 25 million passengers by 2043. Such would lead to an estimated $17 billion lost in annual GDP. He believes Pickering could play a strategic role in a GTA-integrated network, and that opening an airport there would help Toronto compete with other world-class cities with multi-airport systems, such as New York, London and Paris.
But not everyone is sold. Some are concerned that an airport would take away valuable lands for farming and agriculture, which is a leading economic driver in Ontario and across Canada. According to Mary Delaney of Land Over Landings, the agri-food sector generates over $100 billion and employs over 2.3 million people Canada-wide. Others think the airport will just end up "grossly underused" like the ones in Hamilton and Waterloo, making it not worth the investment.
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Ryan countered these concerns with a scenario:
"If a modestly-sized Pickering airport were to be built on 3,500 acres, it would create approximately 5,000 direct jobs initially. Comparatively, if the same amount of land was dedicated exclusively to agriculture, existing data reveals that around 70 new jobs would be created. We can’t justify spending $230 million in taxpaying dollars to yield so few jobs."
With over 9,000 acres of federal lands in Pickering, Ryan believes there's enough space to dedicate to both an airport and a farming space. There is yet to be confirmation that the project will move forward, but it could definitely be possible in the near future.