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Eng on vacation during Pearson crisis: GTAA

Jan. 17, 2014, Toronto - The Greater Toronto Airports Authority is now admitting its embattled CEO was “on vacation” during the city’s deep freeze, contradicting its earlier statements that Howard Eng was on business.


January 17, 2014
By The Toronto Star

Eng refused an
interview with the Star on Thursday. Spokesman Scott Armstrong clarified
in an emailed statement that the CEO was, in fact, on a “holiday break”
during the crisis that gripped Pearson International Airport.

 

“Howard Eng was on
vacation in Edmonton visiting family over Christmas. Like many CEOs,
Howard had business matters to which he needed to attend during his
holiday break,” he said.

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This contradicts Eng’s comments last week
that the first part of his trip was a vacation, but the final week —
the week of the Pearson crisis — was “business.” Both Eng and his staff
have refused to say who he was meeting with and when.

 

Eng has been under
fire since Jan. 7, when freezing temperatures of -25C with a -40C wind
chill led the authority, in consultation with airlines and NAV Canada,
to declare a “ground stop,” halting all North American landings at
Pearson for more than 11 hours.

 

The CEO remained silent
on both Jan. 7 and 8. Armstrong first told the Star Eng was “out of the
country” before saying he was “on business” in Edmonton and refusing to
provide more details.

Armstrong did not
respond to questions Thursday about the apparent contradiction. The
admission comes a day after board chair Vijay Kanwar told the Star the
chief was on vacation.

 

Kanwar announced Wednesday
the board will conduct an “across the board” investigation into the
events that led to the ground stop, which stranded thousands of
travelers and forced days-long delays.

 

The board is the only
body that has the power to fire or discipline Eng, who earned $712,138
in 2012, including incentives. Kanwar promised that the CEO’s
performance would be a part of the review, which will be published in 90
days.

 

Eng told the Star last
week that he paid for his flight to Edmonton, but the GTAA paid for his
flight home as, in the final week of his trip, he was “on business.”
Armstrong would not say whether the authority would now ask the CEO to
pay for his ticket.

 

The Edmonton Chamber
of Commerce, Canadian Business Aviation Association and the Alberta
Aviation Museum have all said that to their knowledge there were no
aviation conferences in Edmonton or meetings scheduled with Eng during
the second week of January.

 

The only meeting the
Star has been able to confirm is one with the Edmonton Regional Airports
Authority on Jan. 9, which was cancelled when Eng returned to Toronto a
day early.

 

The episode has sparked questions about accountability and transparency at the GTAA, with some regional leaders demanding changes to the board’s appointment process.

 

The private,
non-profit entity is governed by a 15-member board, of which two members
are appointed by the federal government and one is appointed by the
province. Although the five regions in the GTA have “representatives” on
the board, and may put forward nominations, the board has the power to
reject those names and appoint its own members.

 

Kanwar said the appointment process is set out in federal legislation. He said, to his knowledge, the board had never rejected all of a region’s nominations and appointed its own choice instead.

 

“The board feels it is
accountable to the public,” Kanwar said Thursday. “It’s working hard to
stay transparent and we’re all waiting for outcomes of this review.”

 

He said the board’s
five-member ad hoc review committee met for the first time Thursday
afternoon. The review will include input from the GTAA, airlines, ground
handlers, NAV Canada and the public.

 

A
spokeswoman for Minister of Transportation Lisa Raitt said in an email
the GTAA is responsible for its own daily operations and business
decisions. She did not respond to questions about the board’s
appointment process.

 

“The Minister did ask
the appropriate authorities to complete its own review, and take action
as required. Once we receive this review, we will look at next steps,”
said spokeswoman Ashley Kelahear.

 

Premier Kathleen Wynne
told reporters Wednesday it may be time to take a look at the
composition of the board. “I think that there have been some incidents
in the last couple of weeks that raise questions, and you know we will
pay attention to that,” she said.