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Slot machines at the River Rock Casino in Richmond, B.C. June 11, 2009. John Lehmann/Globe and Mail (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Slot machines at the River Rock Casino in Richmond, B.C. June 11, 2009. John Lehmann/Globe and Mail (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Coleman’s bad bet on casino ultimatum Add to ...

Casino applications rarely end well. There are always people who don’t want a gambling joint in their community. The final decision, whichever way it goes, invariably leads to hard feelings that can linger for years.

The politics that surround these gambling projects can often be ugly, too, and lead to bitter recriminations that can have long-term consequences. And for the latest example of this, we direct you to the fallout from Surrey council’s recent move to reject a proposed $100-million casino development for its city.

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There is almost no one who has come out looking good in this one, except perhaps for the citizens who led the charge to have the application thwarted. Whether you agree with their viewpoint or not, at least they acted honourably and with integrity. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for others, starting with Liberal cabinet minister Rich Coleman.

This week, it was revealed that a couple of days before the Jan. 19 vote on the matter, Mr. Coleman, the minister in charge of gambling in the province, phoned a couple of Surrey councillors with a not-so-subtle warning: If the city voted the casino down, it would be the last chance they’d get for one.

After Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts cast the deciding vote against the development, Mr. Coleman was furious. He publicly reiterated the threats that he’d made privately to the councillors; this was it for Surrey. The province and the BCLC (British Columbia Lottery Corporation) would never deal with it again when it came to casino applications.

Even the lottery corporation president, Michael Graydon, couldn’t contain his resentment. He chastised the mayor for casting the vote that killed the project when she had never previously raised any objections to it. Or so he said. He accused the city of being difficult to deal with.

It’s hard to say whose conduct was more egregious: Mr. Coleman’s or the lottery corporation president’s.

Rich Coleman had no business trying to influence anyone’s vote with a take-it-or-leave-it threat. This was a matter for the city of Surrey and its residents to decide. There was an approval protocol in place. As Ms. Watts rightly pointed out this week: “Why even have a process and engage the public on a gaming license if your expectation is that it should go through regardless?”

Even some of Mr. Coleman’s Liberal caucus colleagues were affronted by his behaviour. Surrey-White Rock MLA Gordie Hogg called it completely “inappropriate.”

That Mr. Coleman’s actions haven’t been censured in any way does not reflect well on the leadership in this province. Premier Christy Clark certainly can’t abide by this type of behaviour, no matter how much she may like her cabinet minister.

Beyond that, Mr. Coleman’s threat and subsequent tantrum at the result does not speak well of the philosophical outlook of the Liberal party overall. It’s the type of behaviour that implies that the will of the people is meaningless and should be disregarded at the expense of the almighty dollar. Surely, this can’t be the kind of message a political party wants to be communicating in advance of a provincial election.

The Premier would be wise to clarify where she and her government stand on such matters. She should also call off the jihad Mr. Coleman seems to have declared on Surrey. There shouldn’t be any type of lifetime casino ban on the city. That’s ridiculous.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea if Ms. Clark also clarified the role of the lottery corporation. I think most of us believe it is a regulator. That it oversees gambling in the province and as such should not be actively involved in promoting individual casino applications as it did in this case. That is the proponent’s job.

Mr. Graydon is a civil servant and he has no right to be criticizing the actions of an elected official, let alone the mayor of the second-largest city in the province. It’s Ms. Watt’s job to represent, and act on, the wishes of her citizens. That’s what she did in this case. For Mr. Graydon to call her out for that is not only completely outside his mandate but also terribly disrespectful.

At the very least, he owes Ms. Watts and the residents of Surrey an apology.

Ms. Watts, meantime, has her own problems. Four members of her council, all members of her Surrey First party, voted for the project. There is a sense among some of them, it seems, that the city led the developer along. That in private meetings, it signalled the project would get approval if it just tweaked the proposal a little bit here and a little bit there. No doubt the developer feels it got stiffed, too.

Not good. Any of it. And we likely haven’t heard the end of it.

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