The Front Lines – February 2020

“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”

Hizzoner Mayor Dan Carter graced the Government Relations committee with his presence at our February 6, 2020 meeting. The principal topic of conversation was the Oshawa Executive Airport which has been much discussed by the Committee over the past year or so. The Mayor hastened to assure the assemblage and all Chamber members that City government had no present intention of closing the airport, which was good to hear but not really the main question. The Mayor advised us of the city’s legal obligation to keep the airport open until 2047. He also indicated that breach of that obligation would result in a payment to the Federal Government of a sum equal to 8 percent of the retail value of the property which the Mayor estimated to be about $350 Million in today’s prices. That number reflects the 500-acre parcel and an approximate value of $700,000 per acre and 8% would therefore be $28 Million. Moreover, said the Mayor, millions have been spent on recent renovations and we wouldn’t want to waste that money. One wonders what the value of that property might be to developers looking to residential uses and what the City might take in on development charges and how tempting it might be to pay the Danegeld to the Feds. One wonders these things in light of the long history of pushing residential development over commercial and the ensuing imbalance in the property tax base.

The Mayor was quick with some additional statistics. 80 percent of the movements at the airport are related to the Flight Schools while 20% are commercial flights. Of further note was the fact that the fuel revenue for the 80% was about the same as the fuel revenue for the 20%. Oddly, the small but vocal minority of ratepayers who fought so hard against more commercial activity would seem to be innumerate.

The Mayor indicated that Council and Staff continue to study the issues and they continue to hold meetings with various small groups of 20 or so people representing a cross-section of the community presumably in hopes of learning something new. There is apparently no deadline for finalizing these meetings. Other studies are or will be done, said the Mayor, relating to air quality and noise level issues. All these studies are occurring under the direction of City staff.

When questioned about possible opportunities for other businesses including passenger service, the Mayor advised that “this Council can do absolutely anything” with respect to the airport at this time including, in his view, a consideration of passenger service.

The Mayor acknowledged that the community felt there was an imbalance in the operations at the airport and wants to address that imbalance. No word on how yet. Maybe the many, many studies will help.

One thorny issue which is apparently not being studied and which did not seem to be clearly explained was exactly to whom the airport’s operators reported. Was it bureaucrats? A group of councilors? Council as a whole?

As we have noted many times in this column, the Chamber of Commerce fully supports not only the airport as it now is but all opportunities to expand its operations to grow it as a business engine in the local economy and to help increase the commercial and industrial tax base to relieve the burden on the residential ratepayer.

Unless and until there is greater transparency in the operation of the airport it’s hard to see how its great potential can be fulfilled. It’s up to all of us to keep Council’s feet to the fire on this important piece of Oshawa infrastructure.

In the incredibly bizarre news category, the Provincial government has appointed someone from Hamilton to be the provincial representative on the new Hamilton Oshawa Port Authority. This move passes all understanding when you realize that Oshawa and Durham Region have no representatives at all on that Board.

Once again, a key piece of Durham’s infrastructure is without any real input from local citizens. And again, we are left to wonder what, if anything, our local governments are doing to address this terrible imbalance.

In other news, the local government is once more going to protect us by licensing AirBnBs. It’s not entirely clear how this additional level of regulation will keep us safer. And the Regional government is asking for support in their quest for special additional tax breaks for TV and film production in the region. This industry has been growing in leaps and bounds and the additional tax break would make us more competitive with Toronto and Hamilton and points west.

On the higher education front, Durham College is launching a new Cyber Security initiative as an adjunct to its AI facilities. They are also moving forward with a 60,000 square foot addition to their facilities which will house more Trade School opportunities.

Trent University’s new building on Thornton Road is going up fast and on time with the exterior nearly complete. It is set to open in September and will offer 200 new residence beds. Currently, Trent’s operations bring an estimated $47 million annually to the region and this new initiative will increase that to an estimated $80 million.

We received a brief update from OPG with respect to the recent unfortunate and mistaken Pickering Nuclear alert. Apparently, the alert came from the Province and the whole incident is under close investigation. Finally, on the nuclear front, a long negotiation to store low and intermediate level waste at a new site fell through so for now that waste will be stored at the Bruce site. We were advised

that examples of low and intermediate level waste might be gloves or garbage bags that had been exposed to some radiation.

As always, we welcome your thoughts on any of these issues and your suggestions for other matters to be considered and educational events you might like to attend.

Our next GR committee meeting is scheduled for March 12, 2020 at 8:00 a.m. in the Chamber Board Room. As always, to volunteer, suggest a topic, arrange a presentation to the committee or just provide comment on any governmental regulation or policy that affects your business, phone or email