The Relentless Robert Deluce: Porter’s founder wants jets on the waterfront. Who’s going to stop him?

The Relentless Robert Deluce: Porter’s founder wants jets on the waterfront. Who’s going to stop him?

His plans to bring jets to the Island airport have made him Public Enemy Number One. But Robert Deluce isn’t used to failure—and he has a network of powerful allies to help him get what he wants

Apology
The February issue article entitled “The Relentless Robert Deluce” may have left readers with the wrong impression of Mark McQueen, chair of the Toronto Port Authority. Toronto Life did not mean to cast aspersions on Mark McQueen as a business and community leader. Toronto Life has no evidence to suggest that, in his relationship with Porter Airlines, he has behaved unethically or irresponsibly or lacked business acumen or done anything inconsistent with his fiduciary obligations. In fact, the article only meant to comment on the Toronto Port Authority as a public institution, as it relates to the Toronto City Airport, in the context of an ongoing public debate. We apologize to McQueen if we left readers with any other impression.
The Relentless Robert Deluce Deluce in the breakfast nook of his Rosedale home
 

One morning this spring, a ceremonial ribbon-cutting will be held on the Toronto waterfront. The event will mark the official opening of a 240-metre pedestrian tunnel, the long-ballyhooed fixed link connecting Eireann Quay, the bulbous toe of Bathurst Street, to Billy Bishop Airport on the northwest quadrant of the Toronto Islands. The $82.5-million tunnel will reconnect the Islands to the city for the first time in 157 years: in 1858, a violent storm swept over Lake Ontario, ripping what had been a sand and gravel peninsula from the shoreline and creating a 15-islet archipelago.

The tunnel was three years in the making, chiselled out of limestone and shale bedrock 32 metres beneath the lake bed. It was largely financed by departing passengers, courtesy of a mandatory $20 improvement fee levied by the Toronto Port Authority, the tenebrous, federally controlled body that owns the airport. Ground-level elevators will whisk travellers 10 storeys down, then four moving sidewalks will speed them along to terminal check-in counters. The entire journey will take less than six minutes.

The principal beneficiary of this development is 64-year-old Robert Deluce, founder, president and CEO of privately owned Porter Airlines, the airport’s most influential tenant. He’s a short, stocky, bespectacled man with a broad, toothy grin. But don’t let that fool you. He is as shrewd and tenacious as a raccoon, the masked mammal that—no coincidence—adorns his airline’s branding and has become its iconic mascot. The entire history of Porter testifies not only to Deluce’s prodigious work ethic but also to his remarkable dexterity, his ability to anticipate traps, pre-empt roadblocks and thread his way safely through the treacherous political minefields of aviation regulation in Canada.

Defying a bleating chorus of skeptics that called his plan for a new regional airline crazy, Deluce won de facto control of the underutilized Island airport in 2005, evicted his sole competitor, raised $125.7 million from blue-chip investors and, in October 2006, put Porter in flight with two Bombardier Q400 turboprops and a single destination—Ottawa. Today, he presides over what claims to be a profitable enterprise (Porter’s financial ledgers are private) with 1,400 employees and a fleet of 26 airplanes.

If success were measured by customer satisfaction alone, Deluce would rank among the most successful airline operators in Canadian history. Billy Bishop’s numbers have soared from just over 20,000 (in the pre-Porter era) to 2.5 million passengers a year. Porter now flies to 14 Canadian and six U.S. cities, and has become a household name, renowned for convenience, efficiency, and fine touches including free soft drinks, lattes and snacks in a terminal lounge open to everyone.

But to satisfy the imperative of growth, Porter needs to begin flying to longer-haul destinations—the West Coast, Florida and the Caribbean. And to that end, Deluce needs jets. Hence, his ballsy proposal, announced last spring, to rewrite the 31-year-old Tripartite Agreement (between Ottawa, the Port Authority and the City of Toronto) that governs operational protocols at Billy Bishop. That 1983 document bans the use of jet aircraft, except for medical emergencies and during the annual CNE air show. All three signatories must consent to any amendment. If they do, Porter has committed to buy at least 12, and as many as 30, new planes from Bombardier’s CS100 series.

“Our passengers are the ones who said to us, ‘We like what you are doing, but we want access to Vancouver, Los Angeles and Miami,’” says Deluce, as if such multimillion-dollar strategic decisions were a function of mere public opinion. “We see our plan as bringing not just affordable fares and more choice, but additional benefits, one thousand new jobs, potentially another $250 million annually in economic activity, on top of the $2 billion that’s already there. I think that’s a good, solid proposal.”

Deluce also thinks the odds of victory are in his favour. And why wouldn’t he? For more than a decade, he’s won virtually every battle he’s fought. A bid for jets significantly ups the ante. The proposal threatens to drastically alter the footprint of Billy Bishop Airport and, with it, the entire waterfront. The opportunity is enormous. But so is the risk, and not just for Deluce.

The Relentless Robert Deluce Deluce is as shrewd and tenacious as a raccoon—his airline’s masked mascot
 

There are four things you should know about Deluce. The first is that he’s a Northern Ontarian—in other words, tough, resilient and resourceful. He was born in White River, a community of fewer than 1,000 best known for long, harsh winters and, in the early 20th century, for saving the bear cub that later inspired A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh series.

The second is that at age nine, a rare childhood encounter with scleroderma, an autoimmune disorder that typically strikes adults, left him with a slightly gnarled right hand. The condition impeded his adolescent hockey career for a few years, but ultimately hardened his resolve not to let it slow him down.

The third is that Deluce is an alumnus of Teddy Roosevelt’s speak-softly-carry-big-stick school. Modest and understated, he prefers to let his achievements speak for themselves. In conversation, he listens before he takes the floor, but once he does, he commands it and is hard to interrupt.

Finally, there is Deluce’s deeply ingrained love of flying, learned very early on. “I don’t ever remember not being around aircraft,” he says. “It was part of my DNA almost.” His entrepreneurial father, the late Stan Deluce, had been a World War II pilot. Returning home to Northern Ontario, Stan launched White River Air Services in 1951 with one single-engine Stinson, ferrying hunters, fishermen and tourists into the remote bush and back. One or more of his nine children often tagged along on trips, and all seven sons would ultimately get commercial pilots’ licences. The operation, for many years a supplement to Stan’s day job as a locomotive engineer with the CPR, was a family affair; its first office was in their home, where his wife, Angela, handled the paperwork.

Bob, the second eldest, earned his wings at 17. As a boarding student at Toronto’s St. Michael’s College, he’d hop a Bathurst Street bus after class to attend a flying school at the Island airport operated by RCAF veterans Robert and Tommy Wong. Deluce is far too modest to say so, but by then he probably knew as much about airplanes as his instructors.

At the time, he planned for a medical career, in part to address the chronic shortage of doctors in Northern communities. He enrolled in pre-med courses at McGill University, graduating with a bachelor of science degree. But every summer, Christmas and Easter vacation, he and his brothers worked for their father. By the time he left McGill in 1971, Robert had made up his mind to join the family business. He and his older brother, Bill, each bought a quarter equity stake, secured with promissory notes.

The ambitious brothers pushed their father to expand. Through the 1970s and ’80s, the Deluces went on an acquisition binge—Sault Airways, Kapuskasing Flying Service, Air Manitoba, Ontario Central Airlines, Superior Airways and Air Creebec. Their 1974 takeover of rival Austin Airways, which serviced communities on Hudson and James bays and in the Arctic, gave them a virtual monopoly of lucrative federal transport contracts. Eventually, the family also moved into leasing, providing aircraft as far afield as Tunisia and Nepal.

In 1982, they bought a 50 per cent stake in Air Ontario. Five years later, they sold 75 per cent of their equity to Air Canada and bought a stake in Canada 3000. Deluce became president and grew it into one of the world’s largest charter airlines, serving dozens of destinations. By the time he sold out in 1995, the family had extended its reach into several new businesses, including marine equipment, construction and a greenhouse operation that grew 16 million spruce and pine saplings annually for northern reforestation. Quietly, the Deluce siblings had built a mini-empire.

In the late 1990s, Deluce hatched a plan to use the Toronto Island airport as a hub for regional service. “We initially hoped to buy the regional airlines belonging to Canadian Airlines and Air Canada when they were discussing a merger,” he recalls. “That didn’t happen, but it reacquainted us with the Island, which I always thought was a gem that had languished.”

As his Porter dreams took shape, Deluce was convinced that a $16-million drawbridge would be needed to replace the ferry then in operation. That scheme, green-lit by city council in 2002, morphed into a nasty, full-throttle war during the 2003 municipal election campaign. The mayoral candidate David Miller was convinced—then as now—that a rejuvenated airport so close to the city would imperil a planned waterfront renaissance.

When Miller, in his first official act as mayor, cancelled the bridge, Deluce sued the city for $505 million in damages. He dropped the suit after Ottawa wrote a cheque to the Port Authority for $35 million. Porter’s share, $20 million, helped capitalize its 2006 launch. Blue-ribbon investors lined up for a stake, among them GE Asset Capital Management, Edgestone Capital Partners, OMERS and would-be theatre impresario Aubrey Dan, as well as former Sherritt International chairman Ian Delaney and real estate developer Richard Ivey.

The bridge’s cancellation was, Deluce now says, a blessing in disguise. “It slowed us down for a few years, but it also gave us an opportunity to fine-tune our business plan, add financial resources and build a stronger management team.” In retrospect, a drawbridge—opening several times a day to allow boats to pass—would also have become a nuisance to time-pressed travellers.

The Relentless Robert Deluce Deluce in 2012: with his wife, Catherine, head of Chestnut Park Real Estate, at Bridgepoint’s Fandango fundraiser gala; and with assorted mucky-mucks including politicos Dwight Duncan and Glen Murray, Bombardier exec Hélène Gagnon and green aviation expert Sylvain Cofsky (Images: Catherine Deluce by George Pimentel; Duncan by Aline Sandler; Murray, Gagnon and Cofsky courtesy of Bombardier Aerospace)
 

Here’s where the rubber meets the tarmac: the airport’s present 1,216-metre runway isn’t long enough for jets. To accommodate Bombardier’s larger, faster CS100s, it will need to be extended into the water by another 200 metres at each end. That, in turn, may require an expansion of the so-called MEZ—the marine exclusion zone, into which sailboats, canoes, kayaks and other watercraft cannot venture. How much a variance may be needed is in dispute. Deluce’s opponents claim it’s substantial, and that if Transport Canada enforces its own guidelines, jets landing from the east will need long descents and will be doing de facto, low-level fly-bys of buildings east of Harbour Square. Meanwhile, they say, the harbour’s Western Gap would be effectively closed to boaters.

“People don’t realize the amount of water that’s going to be buoyed off,” says Paul Henderson, the former Olympic sailor who led Toronto’s bid for the 1996 Olympic Games. “The MEZ will go from the foot of York Street to Ontario Place.” Henderson spent his childhood summers on the Islands, learned to sail there, and regards them as sacred ground. “Not everyone is wealthy enough to own cottages in Muskoka or Georgian Bay.” For hundreds of thousands of people, he notes, “The Toronto Islands are their summer cottage, their Central Park. Can you imagine anyone allowing an airport in Central Park? Deluce should be hung.”

Deluce calls this rhetoric scaremongering. The jets, he insists, will make the same kind of landings as the Q400 turboprops—and no adjustment to the MEZ will be needed. But a runway extension could soon be required at Billy Bishop, jets or no jets. As a result of the 2005 overrun by an Air France plane at Pearson, Transport Canada is studying whether to mandate 150-metre safety zones at all commercial airports.

Of the three signatories to the Tripartite Agreement, two—the federal government and its puppet agency, the Toronto Port Authority—are thought to favour Deluce’s proposal. The reasons are obvious. Ottawa has some serious skin in the Porter game. The Business Development Bank of Canada, a Crown corporation that helps finance entrepreneurs, ponied up $30 million to help the airline construct a new $50-million terminal in 2010—the largest single loan in its history. Export Development Canada has extended at least $300 million in loans. Those helped finance Porter’s purchases of turboprops. And the federal government has underwritten a billion more for Porter’s manufacturer, Bombardier—$350 million for the C Series alone. Many jobs—and no small amount of political capital—are at stake. Cancellation of Deluce’s 30-jet order, valued at $2.3 billion, might not kill the program, but it wouldn’t help.

Officially, the Port Authority, self-styled guardian and steward of the waterfront, remains agnostic about Deluce’s jet-fuelled ambitions—it will weigh in after the completion of an environmental assessment, an airport master plan revision and runway modelling. “Porter’s proposal is complex,” says CEO Geoffrey Wilson. “The responsible thing to do is to get the information city council has asked for.”

Bromides notwithstanding, the TPA has acted in virtual lockstep with Porter. Its former CEO, current federal Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt, played bountiful midwife at Porter’s birth, granting Deluce the lion’s share (originally 95 per cent, now 85 per cent) of landing slots at Billy Bishop and ceding exclusive rights to operate a terminal.

“The way Deluce has played the Port Authority is masterful,” says Douglas Reid, a former TPA board member, now teaching at Queen’s School of Business. “He got them to buy a second ferry boat. He got them to build the tunnel. How he gets these doings done is nothing short of a miracle. The record of decisions favouring Deluce, without exposing him to costs, raises the question of who’s running the airport. It’s a textbook case of a tenant capturing a landlord.”

The miracle isn’t all of Deluce’s making. Porter’s relationship with the TPA is essentially symbiotic. The airport accounts for some 70 per cent of the Port Authority’s revenues; its other business lines—the once-vibrant, now increasingly moribund Port of Toronto, and the Outer Harbour Marina—provide marginal returns. To justify its continued existence, and its extravagant salaries—Geoffrey Wilson earned $306,000 in 2013, five other senior executives a total of $900,000—the Port Authority needs to see Porter succeed.

Although the TPA’s mandate calls for financial self-sufficiency, it’s loyal to its federal masters. The board is a Tory redoubt, stacked with acolytes and purged of dissenters. Deluce’s own Conservative pedigree is long-standing. He has spent almost four decades cultivating a labyrinthine network of influential Conservative friends.

At the TPA, Deluce can rely on the support of board member Jeremy Adams, who was an advisor to former Ontario premier Mike Harris; lawyer Sean Morley, who served as policy advisor to the late Jim Flaherty; Robert Poirier, a veteran Tory fundraiser; and Mark McQueen, TPA’s chair for the past seven years, a Conservative party member and a former staffer in Brian Mulroney’s PMO.

Another TPA board member, Colin Watson, is a friend of Deluce’s. They live on the same Toronto street and both belong to the Rosedale Golf Club. In the late ’90s, when Watson was CEO of Spar Aerospace, Deluce sat on the board. Both men are now board members of Vector Aerospace. At one point, following a complaint about Watson’s role in the decision to purchase a second ferry boat, the federal ethics commissioner investigated their ties but cleared Watson of conflict of interest allegations.

“The TPA is completely in Deluce’s pocket,” says Brian Iler, chair of the anti-jets group CommunityAir. “It signed a 30-year agreement giving Porter essentially free use of the airport. Deluce pays nothing for the land itself, the 87 hectares on which the airport sits. That’s a massive subsidy.” CommunityAir is part of the loose but robust coalition now arrayed against Deluce, which also includes NoJetsTO; various ratepayer associations; some prominent architects, economists and city planners; yachters and kayakers; and the moral imprimatur of at least two former mayors, David Crombie and David Miller.

“There’s a balance to be struck,” says Crombie, now 78. “When you have too much quantity, quality suffers. The assumption that growth is always good just isn’t true. But the hardest thing to do in our society is to say, ‘There’s a limit to growth.’”

“The waterfront is meant to have balanced uses,” Deluce says. “It’s meant to encompass the Redpath Sugars and the Corus Entertainments, the Pinewood Studios and the Porter Airlines, the music gardens and the public walkways. It’s meant to be vibrant. I don’t think jets change the balance.”

Deluce’s most formidable opponent may be Waterfront Toronto, the public body charged with resurrecting the city’s long-neglected shoreline. With a $1.5-billion investment on the line, the agency fears the introduction of jets will adversely affect the waterfront for decades to come. As Waterfront CEO John Campbell and chairman Mark Wilson wrote in an op-ed last March, “The proposal to expand…is a generational decision…. We only have one waterfront. Its vitality and value to the city should not be put at risk by an airport expansion proposal that currently raises more questions than answers.”

Deluce might fairly accuse other opponents of representing parochial interests, or of NIMBYism, or of standing reflexively in the path of progress. But Waterfront Toronto is a different entity. It’s pro-development. Revitalization, its members know, can work only if it harmonizes commercial and lifestyle interests.

THE PORTER POSSE
The powerful backers of Deluce’s airport expansion plan
Bay Street

Richard Ivey

Richard Ivey
The real estate developer is a Porter investor

Ian Delaney

Ian Delaney
The former chairman of Sherritt International is a Porter investor

John A. D. Tory

John A. D. Tory
The son of Mayor John Tory and CEO of executive charter service Private Air endorses Billy Bishop expansion

Colin Watson

Colin Watson
The Toronto Port Authority board member and former CEO of Vector Aerospace is Deluce’s neighbour

Don Carty

Don Carty
The former American Airlines chairman is the Porter board chair
Government

Vic Gupta

Vic Gupta
The mayor’s principal secretary previously worked as a lobbyist for Porter

Lisa Raitt

Lisa Raitt
When serving as TPA CEO, the Minister of Transport granted Porter a near-monopoly on Billy Bishop

John Tory

John Tory
The mayor recused himself from Porter expansion debates, citing conflict of interest

(Images: Ivey, Carty by Getty Images; Delaney, Watson, Gupta by GetStock; Raitt by Reuters; John Tory by Markian Lozowchuk)

As often as not, Bob Deluce rides public transit to his office. Located on the second floor of the Billy Bishop terminal, it’s a surprisingly modest affair, scattered with aviation memorabilia. But he likes to be visible. He often strolls through the Porter lounge, stopping to chat with flight attendants, pilots, baggage handlers and passengers, like a retail politician trolling for votes. Proud of what he’s accomplished, he still retains an owner’s eye for the important detail. When he spots an errant cookie wrapper on the carpet, he’s not above stooping to pick it up and deposit it in a waste bin.

Most mornings, Deluce is at his desk by seven. For all of his professional life, he’s been an early riser, usually getting up by 4 a.m. He typically spends a few minutes sending or responding to emails (he gets about 200 a day), then goes for a 30- or 60-minute outdoor run—a fitness habit he began in his 20s, when he ran marathons. By 5 a.m., he’s working out with a personal trainer at Totum, his Yonge Street gym.

Catherine, his wife of almost 40 years, is chair and founder of Chestnut Park Real Estate, a carriage trade agency that opened in 1990. Today, she oversees some 280 agents, with satellite offices across cottage country.

The couple met in Kapuskasing in 1972, when she was selling life insurance for Sun Life and he was running the family’s White River Air Services. “A friend of mine suggested Bob as a prospect,” she recalls, “so I went to the airport and sold him a policy.”

“Then,” adds Deluce, “she took the additional step of getting herself named the beneficiary. I’ve worked hard these past 40 years to make sure she doesn’t collect.”

The Deluces moved to Timmins, where Catherine earned her real estate licence and, later, her broker’s licence, then opened her own agency, staffed largely by women. She was soon the most successful realtor in town. The family—three sons and a daughter, now adults—relocated to Toronto in 1987.

Today, the Deluces own a neo-Georgian Rosedale home built in 1907. They also have a summer compound on Lake Rosseau large enough to accommodate their four children and four grandchildren. Two of their sons are Porter employees: Michael is executive vice-president and chief commercial officer, and Jason is manager of technology security and compliance. Daughter Justine is COO of Chesnut Park. Son Brian, an environmental technician, lives in Burlington, Vermont, a Porter seasonal destination.

On summer Friday afternoons, Deluce often flies his amphibious Cessna 185 to Muskoka, avoiding the nightmare of Highway 400. For relaxation, he likes to fish and shoot clay targets. During winter vacations, the Deluces repair to their multimillion-dollar waterfront condominium in Naples, Florida. Deluce says he doesn’t spend as much time there as he’d like. “I belong to a golf club there, and I took my clubs down last winter and never used them once.”

“Bob’s the same person I met in 1975,” insists his close friend J. P. Aubé, a Timmins businessman. “He hasn’t changed. He’s a lot like Stan, his dad, very humble, self-effacing, with a boisterous laugh. But he’s driven. His father instilled that work ethic.” If nothing else, says Aubé, a former chairman of the town’s economic development corporation, Deluce has made an enormous contribution to Northern Ontario. Porter’s service to Timmins, begun in 2012, erased a monopoly situation that, for decades, imposed exorbitant fares, as high as $1,400 return to Toronto. “That opening meant more to him, because of his roots, than opening in New York or Boston,” Aubé says. “He cut the fares by at least 60 per cent, and Air Canada had to reduce their prices. It’s been a game changer. Today, Deluce is more popular here than Santa Claus.”

The Relentless Robert Deluce Deluce in 2009, with the late finance minister Jim Flaherty, Porter chair Don Carty, then–transport minister John Baird and then-MPP Jean-Marc Lalonde (Image: GetStock)
 

The sole remaining wild card on the expansion issue is Toronto city council. Deluce’s efforts there have been no less assiduous. During Rob Ford’s administration, he cozied up to the mayor and his brother Doug, was spotted cruising through municipal offices, and hired professional lobbyists to plead Porter’s case. During last fall’s election, Deluce asked some of his investors to make campaign donations to candidates deemed sympathetic to expansion or swayable on the issue. A cheque for a couple of hundred dollars is unlikely to buy anyone’s vote, but it’s characteristic of Deluce that he leaves no base uncovered. A recent issue of Porter’s in-flight magazine, Re:Porter, contained a flattering profile of the city’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat—she’s expected to play a key role in shaping the discussion.

New mayor John Tory formally recused himself from the forthcoming debate in November, citing an obvious conflict of interest. His son, John A. D. Tory, is CEO of Private Air, an executive charter service that rents space in Porter’s Hangar 6 at Billy Bishop. His son has also spoken at council in support of expansion. The mayor’s principal secretary, Vic Gupta, was until his recent appointment a lobbyist and senior counsel at the Sussex Strategy Group, a consultancy retained by Porter to approach the city on its behalf.

When the Porter football came to city hall last spring, council prudently punted it down the block. There were too many unanswered questions about the impact of expansion on noise, air pollution, traffic congestion, health, boating, passenger caps, transit, infrastructure costs and other factors. Council requested three initiatives—an environmental assessment, a preliminary runway design and a master plan update for Billy Bishop, all supervised by the Port Authority—as well as a study of how the already congested Bathurst Street Quay would be affected. The results aren’t expected until this summer, which means the verdict may not be rendered until the fall. What hangs on it is not only the future of Billy Bishop and Porter Airlines, but also the future of the waterfront.

Ultimately, council’s decision will constitute a de facto referendum on Toronto itself. The expansion debate lights up virtually every blip on the urbanism radar: the imperative of growth versus the prudence of sustainability, the private sector versus the public, job creation versus the environment, short-term objectives versus long-term planning. The Billy Bishop controversy adds a critical dimension—the precious waterfront, diadem in the showcase of every world-class city that claims one.

“We have the makings of one of the great waterfronts in the world,” says architect Jack Diamond. Imagine for a moment, he says, that Billy Bishop didn’t exist, and someone came along and suggested building a major airport on the Islands. “It would never get approved. People would be up in arms. But it’s insidious. People don’t understand. They think, What’s a little expansion?

As the controversy builds, a kind of conspiracy theory is taking shape among Deluce-watchers. Many are convinced that Porter is not as financially sound as it seems, and that Deluce and/or some of his investors are seeking a way out. His traffic numbers are hard to come by and those that are available hint at a softening. The entire jets gambit, the theory suggests, is a means to another end—designed to inflate Porter’s value so it becomes a viable takeover candidate, perhaps by WestJet. Porter’s 2010 prospectus, filed for an aborted $120-million IPO, showed that the airline lost $4.69 million on revenues of $151.2 million in 2009. By March 2010, it had accumulated losses of $44.5 million.

If Deluce is short on cash, the problem may soon be solved. Last August, he formally put the terminal up for sale. Operating airports, it turns out, is a very lucrative business, and they are in demand. Talks are well underway and, while no one will confirm numbers, it’s estimated that the 150,000-square-foot terminal, which cost $49 million to build, could fetch an estimated half-billion dollars—a windfall to Porter’s balance sheet.

The Relentless Robert Deluce The tunnel to the Island airport, due to be completed this spring, is an $82.5-million solution to slow-paced ferry service (Image: QMI Agency)
 

Deluce likes to call the new Bombardier planes “whisper jets.” It’s a clever spin, but not many are fooled. A jet engine whispers the way Niagara Falls trickles. Even if the CS100 matches or improves upon the acoustic profile of the turboprops, there’s going to be a significant increase in takeoffs and landings—a.k.a. slots—and thus more (if not louder) noise and an automatic rise in carbon dioxide emissions. The Port Authority now limits slots to 202 a day.

If Deluce wins, passenger traffic at Billy Bishop is projected to soar from 2.5 million to as many as 4.8 million. That may tax the capacity not only of the airport’s infrastructure—terminal, fuel storage, baggage services, de-icing silos, catering, taxi pens, parking lots—but also of surrounding neighbourhoods, including a school and a community centre. City staff estimate that as much as $300 million in taxpayer funds will need to be spent on so-called ground-side improvements if jets are approved.

A green light for Deluce will almost certainly bring fresh demands from Air Canada, WestJet and possibly others to grant them comparable long-haul access at Billy Bishop. And corporate jet owners will also be lining up for increased landing rights, threatening to turn the airport into a playground for the rich.

The two sides can argue all day about the details—noise, traffic, passenger caps, infrastructure, pollution, boating and runways—each ready to meet the other’s argument with a pointed rebuttal, both laying claim to the higher ground. But the ideology of growth is so embedded in western commercial culture that almost no one stops to ask, as the former TPA board member Douglas Reid does, “Would Porter be a disaster if someone said no? And if the growth projections aren’t realized, and economic benefits don’t accrue, can it be undone? Is Deluce willing to bet $100 million against the possibility?” In a dumbed-down era, Reid says, “all you have to do to get things done is say ‘job creation.’ People believe growth is important because it’s all we hear. But to paraphrase Edward Abbey, growth has the ethic of a cancer cell.”

The tendency of Deluce’s critics to draw conclusions before the facts arrive rankles him. “If you deal with it emotionally and subjectively, you aren’t necessarily making the right judgment call. Had Porter surrendered to its early opposition,” he recalls, “there’d be no Porter today.”

Deluce has been a champion of growth since the day he started work in his father’s business. Like airplanes, it’s part of his DNA. Prudent growth isn’t good just for the Deluce family, the mantra goes, it’s good for everyone, creating livelihoods, revving the engines of the economy. And let it be noted: history has not been kind to those who bet against Robert Deluce.