Mississauga promises to hold up the creation of “Union Station West” until it settles long-standing money issues with the operators of Pearson Airport.
On Dec. 13, city councillors put a halt to any talk about the proposed transit hub to force the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) to address the issues, some of which the sides have been arguing about for almost 20 years. A statement released by the GTAA said it is disappointed in Mississauga’s move and indicated it would continue to work with other municipalities on a regional transit program.
The airport, while geographically located in Mississauga, operates on federal government land, which means it is not subject to all municipal regulations. However, Mississauga believes it is being short-changed in comparison with deals other airports have with municipalities across Canada and because of the services the city provides to Pearson-operated properties.
Carolyn Parrish, councillor for Ward 5, where the airport is located, highlighted the dispute after GTAA officials asked to work with Mississauga on the transportation hub referred to as Union Station West. The proposed terminal will link Mississauga Transit to the airport along with other regional transportation networks. At the meeting, Parrish pointed out that money given by the GTAA to the city falls short in many areas, particularly the transportation fees paid by passengers and with the funds given in lieu of taxes.
“They are bleeding us dry on this issue,” Parrish told council. She suggested if Mississauga received the same compensation as other municipalities it could lead to tax breaks and more capital projects.
As far back as 1997, the city has been at financial loggerheads with the operators of the airport. That’s when Ottawa transferred ownership to the GTAA, a not-for-profit body. At the time, the federal government said the new agency had to negotiate an agreement with Mississauga to compensate for the services provided to the airport and for the loss of property tax. That has never happened, and Mississauga politicians, including former mayor Hazel McCallion, have continually demanded a negotiated agreement.
During the meeting, several councillors pointed out the city was also missing out on development charges, stormwater fees, and other infrastructure expenses such as road maintenance. Councillors fear, as the airport expands into surrounding properties, the city will lose existing tax dollars if they are converted into federal Crown lands, despite assurances that will not be the case.
“Things can change very quickly if their expansions become Crown land,” Parrish said. “Just a stroke of pen is all that is needed and we could lose millions (of dollars).”
In pressing for her plan, Parrish stressed the city should eventually embark on a public relations plan to tell its story to residents if an agreement can’t be reached with the GTAA to resolve the differences.
In 1987, Mississauga also had very public dispute with the builders of the airport’s Terminal 3 over development charges that were denied the city on the grounds of it being on federal property. The developers, Huang and Danczkay, eventually capitulated, but the dispute led to simmering tensions, especially with McCallion, who always felt Mississauga was short-changed by the airport. McCallion now sits as a federal government appointee to the GTAA.
Pictured here, the Union Pearson Express is a key component of a transportation hub planned for the airport. Photo courtesy of Rick Radell.