Once again, the topic of building a second major airport for the GTA is under discussion. Prodded by the closing of the region’s General Motors plant, John Henry, chairman of Durham Region, wants to see such an airport built on the land the Trudeau government purchased – back in 1972, when Trudeau père was PM. He sees this as a means to return job growth to the region.

Almost 19 thousand acres of farmland were purchased back then for the express purpose of building a large airport to relieve forecast congestion at Toronto’s Pearson airport. The forecast congestion didn’t materialize as quickly as originally envisioned, but is now a more pressing issue, with a 2011 federal study predicting the need for a reliever airport sometime between 2027 and 2037.

In 2011, the Harper government dusted off the proposal with an announcement by then-finance minister Jim Flaherty that construction of a new airport on the Pickering lands would begin in 2013. That did not come to pass, and the current Trudeau government has been mum on the issue.

From the beginning, opposition to the development of the airport was strong, with opponents citing the high quality of the land for agricultural use. That opposition continues today, with a number of volunteers forming a group called Land Not Landings.

“The threat of an airport on these lands has to be lifted and the lands have to be protected in perpetuity,” says Mary Delaney, group chairwoman. “The overwhelming push, and it’s aggressive, has been from our local municipal and regional government.”

More opposition is coming from environmentalists, questioning the wisdom of building an airport when air transportation is a significant contributor of greenhouse gases.

Countering the opposition, Durham County’s Henry told CBC Toronto, “We have a tremendous opportunity here to do something that really has never been done before. It’s time that we get on with this and the government finally makes a decision.”

Perhaps Henry needs a primer on the results of the last time the federal government built a major airport.

Image credit: Google Earth with annotations by Friends of Pickering Airport