City staff believe neither councillors nor the public have a right to see the audited financial statements of the city–owned airport, a situation accepted by one councillor but strongly rejected by another who is threatening to use freedom of information to force disclosure. Flight numbers appear to be sharply declining this year and the private operator is not promising any significant improvements in either passenger numbers or cargo volume in 2013.
The annual presentation to council by Tradeport president Frank Scremin included the revelation that he and city manager Chris Murray have been discussing extension of the 40–year lease beyond the current expiry date of 2036, and a suggestion by both men that council formally direct Murray to “start those conversations now” with Tradeport.
“Frank and I have been talking the last few months about this particular item and it’s clear in the agreement that there’s nothing that precludes us from having this discussion start now,” said Murray. “There’s really I don’t think much of a downside of starting to sit down with Frank and his staff and put together a framework for what might be a renewal of the lease, subject to conditions that are acceptable to council.”
But Chad Collins objected that the negotiations need “to involve members of council” and consider “whether it be the current operator that we have, or another operator” running the city–owned facility. He contends that the deal presented through the media “turned out to be a lot different when we read the fine print after it was sent to the lawyers” and that resulting “warts” have subsequently been revealed.
“It needs to be a public process, and we certainly need to hear from our constituents in terms of how they believe the airport should be operated over the next several decades because it would be a long term contract,” Collins argued, successfully getting the negotiations postponed until he presents a motion on the matter later this year.
A key requirement of such negotiations, contended Brad Clark, is the public release of Tradeport’s audited statements, something the company has stopped doing this year to the consternation of Ancaster resident Michael Desnoyers, the chairperson of Hamiltonians for Progressive Development.
Lloyd Ferguson asked about the availability of the statements and got confirmation from the manager of growth development, Guy Paparella, that the company can deny the information to the public and the members of city council. Ferguson seemed satisfied with that situation, but Clark definitely wasn’t and reminded Paparella that he had previously used freedom of information legislation to force the public release of the audit that annually determines Tradeport’s required rental payments to the city.
“The public, and more importantly, the councillors, have a right to see that full audit. We can’t make decisions without knowing what’s going on there.”
Councillors pressed Scremin to increase passengers by attracting flights to more destinations. The Tradeport president stressed that his company is doing everything it can but faces tough competition from other airports. He acknowledged that the official vision to be the airport of choice in southern Ontario is “aspirational” but pointed to two new “sun destination” flights to Jamaica and Mexico as evidence that Tradeport’s leisure travel objectives are being achieved.
A query from McHattie about last year’s decline in cargo weight also drew cautious optimism from Scremin.
“We’re still seeing a fair bit of volatility month to month in terms of activity, and really, it’s not a function of the traffic going to other airports; it’s really just a function of goods moving or not moving based on what’s happening in the economy.” V