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Jul 25, 2017

Former Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion, historically a staunch critic of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, has been nominated to serve on its Board of Directors.

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau made the announcement on July 24, attributing the selection of McCallion to her long-standing commitment to the community and experience dealing with matters of corporate governance.

"Ms. McCallion has committed more than 40 years of service for her community. She brings an array of knowledge and corporate governance expertise to the transportation portfolio and we are very pleased that she has accepted this appointment," said ministry spokesperson Delphine Denis.

But the decision to nominate a 96-year-old to the board of directors for an entity she fought so vehemently against has some people questioning the move.

“Hazel’s innovative thoughts on Pearson airport were probably formed back when the DC-3 first landed there,” quipped Coun. Carolyn Parrish, referring to a twin-engine airliner which dates back to the 1930s.

Tom Urbaniak, political science professor and author of Her Worship: Hazel McCallion and the Development of Mississauga, described the relationship between the operators of Pearson airport and McCallion as “very strained for many years.”

“She saw the GTAA as creating a city within a city and being accountable to no one, least of all to Mississauga and Peel,” he noted.

In his book, Urbaniak explains how McCallion repeatedly tried to thwart attempts to create a local governing body for Pearson airport, fearing it would serve Toronto's interests over those of Mississauga. In 1991, she crashed a private meeting between a Metro-dominated would-be airport authority and senior federal and provincial officials, calling it an "‘illegal airport authority.”

Her preferred ownership model was, at the time, in line with the prevailing view of the federal Conservatives — privatization. This would ensure the city collected property taxes (instead of payments-in-lieu) to reduce the burden on the residential tax base, as well as development charges, which weren't required for federally-owned properties.

"In her view, Mississauga had to service the airport and be prepared for emergencies but with limited direct benefit or compensation" said Urbaniak.

With McCallion’s shrewd support, the Conservative transport minister inked a 57-year lease agreement with Pearson Development Corporation, who was contracted to complete major renovations at Pearson — renovations that the public sector simply could not afford.

But the deal was axed after the Liberals won the 1993 federal election, under the leadership of Jean Chrétien, who preferred devolution to a local airport authority.

The GTAA was formed three years later under a 60-year lease and “proved to be nothing but a headache for the mayor,” wrote Urbaniak.

In 2001, the Supreme Court dismissed a bid by the City of Mississauga excusing the GTAA from paying $47 million in development charges on a planned $4.4-billion expansion. The GTAA also took the city to the Ontario Municipal Board in an unsuccessful attempt to stop it from converting land around Meadowvale Village from industrial to residential.

“She … cost the feds and the city millions of dollars in legal battles,” said Parrish.

Fast-forward to 2017 — the federal government is once again reviewing the ownership structure of Canadian airports and the GTAA has signalled that it is open to privatization if the move could help kick-start their plans for an $11.2 billion transit hub.

The GTAA has been actively lobbying the federal government for support, meeting nearly 60 times with various ministries and departments, including Transport Canada, according to Ottawa's lobbyist registry.

Asked if McCallion’s nomination is related to the potential privatization of the airport, the transport minister's press secretary replied: “We have not put forward a proposal on this matter."

The GTAA is expected to go to tender by the end of July on the construction of the multi-billion dollar project at Pearson airport. Dubbed the “Union Station West,” the hub would be served by GO Transit, LRT lines along Eglinton and Finch, UP Airport Express and Mississauga Bus Rapid Transit.

“Their dream of a transportation hub will be shot (if McCallion is appointed),” warned Parrish, adding McCallion lacks the skills necessary to provide innovative and forward-thinking ideas to the airport authority.

The Ward 5 councillor and former member of Parliament during the Chrétien years used the decision to stop the Mississauga Transitway short of the airport corporate centre as an example of McCallion's poor planning on the transit file.

"She didn't even make sure the BRT along the 403 went into the airport for the thousands of Mississaugans that work there," she said. “The Liberal government claims to be courting youth and innovation. Guess that’s just so much lip service.”

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is supportive of Pearson’s mega-hub, calling the concept a "game changer." But she's remained relatively silent on whether or not she supports any type of ownership change, saying only that it could be a “cause for concern” if the wrong people are driving the change.

On McCallion's nomination, Crombie offered congratulations to her beloved predecessor in an emailed statement: "Hazel McCallion’s unrivalled experience as a proven city-builder will be especially important to help transform ideas into results."

GTAA spokesperson Natalie Moncur said the review process is still underway, as the board has to consider the credentials of those selected before rubber-stamping any appointments.

“Hazel McCallion, while at times an opponent of the GTAA’s mandate, has also been a champion for the contributions the GTAA has made to the region. If elected to the board, she will be a respected voice in important decisions and discussions related to the operation and growth of Toronto Pearson,” she added.

McCallion did not respond to a request for comment from The News.

Kathleen Keller-Hobson, corporate director for Premium Brands Holdings Corporation, with experience in manufacturing, retail, transportation and life sciences, was also appointed to the GTAA board.

by Rachael Williams

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