Thursday, June 5, 2008

Who needs a bridge? (He doesn't)

How an airline entrepreneur is doing more for Toronto than its Mayor

Residents of Toronto will recall that, in his run for mayor in 2003, David Miller made cancellation of a planned bridge to the city's Island Airport -- Porter's hub -- the centrepiece of his campaign. It was thought that the lack of a bridge to the facility (which is officially called Toronto City Centre Airport -- TCCA) would present an extraordinary obstacle for Porter.

Instead, to the benefit of Toronto travellers and the chagrin of the misguided Mayor, Porter has thrived at its water-bound location (though you need to take a ferry to cross the 100-metre gap to TCCA) and stands as testament to the effectiveness of private enterprise.

Today, as Miller and his leftist city council grapple with a problem -- tourism in Toronto is in sharp decline -- that surprised no one but them, it can and should be said that Bob Deluce and Porter Airlines have done more to help bring tourists and businesspeople to Canada's largest city than the Mayor and his entire socialist cabal combined.

For tourism to thrive in any community, at least three things are required: There must be some draw to entice folks to come to town; getting to and from the community must be reasonably economical and convenient; and it must be a safe and easy place in which to get around.

As to the first prerequisite, Toronto remains one of the top theatre and sports centres in North America. Pertinent to the second, Porter offers regular, inexpensive flights from Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax and New York.

As for the third requirement -- the only one that is squarely the responsibility of city hall -- it is nowhere near being met.

Sadly and eternally, politicians have a funny way of deciding what is, and what is not, their responsibility. So as sports teams and artists keep Toronto in the mainstream, and a fellow like Deluce competes against much larger airlines to provide convenient, inexpensive transportation to and from the city, Miller demurs at his professional obligation to keep streets safe, clean and moving. Instead, when he is not campaigning against private businesses like Porter, the Mayor empanels one group after another to offer taxpayer-funded contemplation of the tourism problem.

It would not cost Miller one thin dime to pass anti-panhandling legislation, as 12 other Canadian cities have done, so tourists would not be accosted by the ubiquitous and aggressive beggars who are perhaps Toronto's best ambassadors for going someplace else. But from the $4-million "Toronto Unlimited" branding initiative to this month's 230-page, taxpayer-funded study on what should be done to reverse the tourism decline, Miller's costly tic is to seek out the most expensive and least effective option.

Deluce, meanwhile, goes quietly about his business. For a fellow who has been proved utterly correct over the last five years, he is surprisingly unwilling to gloat. His smile is confident and calm as he talks about the airline's early years and bright future. As to the bridge that caused such a kerfuffle when Miller first aspired to high office, Deluce shrugs and says he would be happy to have one, but Porter has adapted to life without it.

David Miller became Mayor of Toronto largely by crusading against the business plan of Porter Airlines. Now that the airline is a success, and as Miller scrambles to bolster a sector to which Porter is essential, citizens of Toronto can see for themselves who truly serves their needs.

For the city to thrive, it needs fewer politicians and more entrepreneurs like Bob Deluce.