Pearson Airport has no plans to offer gambling, cannabis, but lobbyist looking into possibilities

People line up before entering security at Pearson International Airport in Toronto earlier this month. (THE CANADIAN PRESS - image credit)
People line up before entering security at Pearson International Airport in Toronto earlier this month. (THE CANADIAN PRESS - image credit)

The organization that runs Pearson International Airport says no preparations are underway to bring gambling or retail cannabis to its terminals, but it has hired a lobbyist who intends to talk to government officials about those possibilities.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) said it has no plans to open a retail cannabis store and it is not investigating any gambling opportunities at the airport. The authority said, however, it does need to look at ways to generate new revenue.

"As a private, not-for-profit, non-share capital corporation with revenues closely tied to passenger traffic, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority continues to look at options to diversify its revenue sources and provide a world-class passenger experience, competitive with other international airports," the statement reads.

The GTAA said it did participate in provincial consultations about a proposed new gambling framework and the organization and its consultants registered with the province to indicate those discussions happened. But nothing is in the works, it added.

The Toronto Star first reported that the GTAA had hired lobbyist Clare Michaels to hold discussions on possible opportunities. Michaels is an associate principle at Navigator Ltd. and worked previously in Ontario Premier Doug Ford's office.

According to the Office of the Integrity Commissioner, on its lobbyist registration page, Michaels indicates she intends to talk to officials at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario and the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) about Pearson.

Her lobbying goals include: "Discussions with the LCBO about expanded beverage alcohol services at [Pearson]. Discussions with AGCO and OCS about retail cannabis opportunities at the airport. Discussions with OLG about gaming opportunities at the airport."

Cannabis Council of Canada says idea has 'merit'

George Smitherman, former Ontario health minister and now of president the Cannabis Council of Canada, said on Wednesday the idea of selling cannabis at the airport is an interesting one but Pearson could face some business challenges because of the large number of cannabis stores in the GTA and the high cost of operating a store.

"I think there's a lot of merit to it. But I do think it reflects the fact that there are a lot of cannabis consumers out there," he said.

Smitherman said a retail cannabis store at the airport could work as a showcase for Canadian cannabis products because the airport is an international place within Canada.

"Pearson Airport could be a really, really unique place, as an example, in conveying just some of where the world is headed and this great array of Canadian innovation reflected in our products, which are really great."

In an Aug. 10 news release, the GTAA said its operating activity continues to be well below that of 2019 levels and it cannot predict with accuracy when demand for travel will fully recover from the pandemic.

"Management continues to analyze the extent of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has diminished," the release says.

"While the full duration and scope of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be known at this time, in the long-term the GTAA believes that full recovery will be achieved, and the pandemic will not have a material impact on the long-term financial sustainability of the Airport."