(Image: Torontoist Flckr Pool)

Last week, like others who have flown on Porter, I got an email from the airline that recapped their big announcement (new jets, new destinations,  expansion of the Island Airport’s runway) and put it in the context of improving their customers’ experience.  The email asks customers to visit a website  that provides more details on Porter’s plans and gives customers an opportunity to put their name on a support list and to “share your support” through Facebook or Twitter (5,600+ supporters at this point, not yet a groundswell).  The content of the email was mirrored in print ads seen in Toronto newspapers.

What the email, ads and website didn’t mention was the conditional nature of the entire proposal and the bottom-line need to get Toronto City Council, the Toronto Port Authority and the Government of Canada to approve the proposal.

The federal government, by the way, appoints seven of the nine directors on the Port Authority’s Board – many of whom are Conservative Party members. In terms of approval, I can’t see the federal government getting in the way of this. For the Harper Tories, this is a no brainer; they have no votes to lose in Toronto, they’ll claim economic benefits for Quebec (Bombardier’s jets will be assembled in Mirabel, Quebec – with the parts and components coming from everywhere from China to Northern Ireland) and they’ll provide further evidence of a sensible approach to economic development and growth.

Compared to the 2003 debate about the island airport, this time around there seems to be more favourable consideration of the proposal. A quickly-done poll shows Torontonians are generally supportive and even the Star is in support. After all, the lakeshore is already a noisy place. Pearson – even with a train to and from Union Station – is still big, crowded and expensive. And flying to L.A. or Vancouver or Miami from the Island is hugely appealing in its convenience.

However, the first and biggest hurdle to the expansion proposal is Toronto City Council. Much has been made of the fact that Porter didn’t tip its hat to most of council; in fact, some councillors were caught off guard and were clearly peeved that Porter didn’t give them any advance notice.  Opposing Councillors are already organizing with Toronto Island residents and others to plot an anti-expansion strategy. The Globe’s “informal tally” of councillors shows Porter has an uphill battle to get a majority on its side.

Here’s what I wonder: If Porter is positioning their expansion as a passenger issue, why is it not more concerned with building support with its passengers (and potential passengers) in the Toronto area? Why is it not making a more robust call to action? Why isn’t it putting more effort into mobilizing the hundreds of thousands of passengers they flew last year? Wouldn’t that be the best way to put pressure on city council, particularly those members who are on the fence?