Montreal and Toronto city councils are debating motions this week that, if approved, would voice official opposition to the privatization of Canadian airports.
“The Canadian model of airline governance works,” said Snowdon councillor Marvin Rotrand. The government earns rent from the not-for-profit organizations that manage airports, he explained, and the system “provides relatively good services, safe and secure passage and it is seen by other countries as a model that they should be moving toward.”
Airports serve a key economic function for cities, said Rotrand, who is presenting his motion against airport privatization to the Montreal city council Tuesday. Toronto’s city council will be debating the issue on Thursday, according to Toronto city councillor Joe Mihevc. It’s no coincidence the motions are going forward in the same week, Mihevc noted, as there is growing concern among municipal officials nationwide.
The Liberal government is reviewing the ownership structure of the country’s big airports and rumours are circulating that they will soon be on the auction block.
When contacted Monday, Transport Minister Marc Garneau, who represents the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount riding, emailed a statement via a spokesperson.
”The government continues to study the issue and no decisions have been made,” Garneau said. “All Canadians want a strong, integrated and modern transportation system. This is fundamental to Canada’s continuing economic performance and competitiveness and we will achieve this by supporting greater choice, better service, lower costs and new rights for middle-class Canadian travellers.”
Back in December, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson wrote to Garneau, saying the current not-for-profit, non-shareholder model allows for a “longer-term approach” to governance, whereas a share-capital structure would remove the “airport’s accountability to the Metro Vancouver community.” The council voted unanimously to endorse the Vancouver Airport Authority Board of Directors’ opposition to privatization.
And the list of nay-saying boards and governments continues to build: The Alberta government as well as the Calgary International Airport and Ottawa International Airport have come out against privatization.
After Vancouver’s motion last year, and hearing Montreal would soon be debating a comparable one, Mihevc said it was time his city addressed the issue before the federal government brings down the gavel. Privatization would serve as a one-time cash grab, he said, with no long-term benefits.
“There’s no problem that needs fixing here,” Mihevc said. “Right now, airports are not-for-profit corporations that serve our public very well. They pay for everything and they do not count on taxpayer money for infrastructure improvements.”
Peter McQueen, a Projet Montréal councillor representing the N.D.G. district, said his party “strongly supports” Rotrand’s motion and “urges the federal government to cancel any plans to privatize our airports because, in private hands, these monopoly facilities would be oriented more toward making a profit than providing a reasonable and fair service to Canadians.”
Citing Australia’s privatized model, Rotrand said privatization has “tended to lead to higher fees” with more costs to the travelling public. There are fewer services, he said, and “tired-looking terminals.” Privatization, he said, means Canada loses “strategic control” over the air industry in the long term.
The National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC) and International Air Transport Association (IATA) have come out against the privatization of airports. In a letter addressed to Rotrand, NACC president and CEO Massimo Bergamini writes: “The international experience in airport privatization is instructive as it has often resulted in higher fees and reduced services for travellers and airlines.”
In a March 28 news release available on IATA’s website, the association argues that eliminating Crown rents is more important than the privatization of airports.
On Monday afternoon, Marc-André Gosselin, Montreal mayor Denis Coderre’s press attaché, stated, “We will announce the position of the administration in the debate on the motion tomorrow.”