It was a role that seemed to be made for Paul Godfrey.
For three years, the Postmedia newspaper executive and former municipal politician and all-purpose mover and shaker – a man who loves, perhaps lives, to dream big – was given the keys to his province’s gambling business by former premier Dalton McGuinty. And with very little supervision, he set about growing an empire, the centrepiece of which would be a glistening new casino in downtown Toronto. When he emerged from a different premier’s office this week, Mr. Godfrey still had his job as chair of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. But having been called on the carpet for overreaching in his bid to build that crown jewel, he no longer had quite so much run of the place.
That Kathleen Wynne felt compelled to rein Mr. Godfrey in, by seemingly putting the kibosh on OLG’s plans to offer Toronto a sweeter casino-hosting arrangement than other municipalities have received, spoke volumes about the difference between her and the people who were running the province only a few months ago – about their views of where Ontario is now, and who they think can help get it somewhere better. Both Mr. McGuinty and then-finance minister Dwight Duncan – probably Mr. Godfrey’s biggest booster within government – bought the premise that OLG needed to be far more entrepreneurial. Not unreasonably, they decided that with a large provincial deficit, it was time for Ontarians to stop holding their noses about a decades-long addiction to gaming revenue, and start collecting as much of that revenue as possible.
More than that, they bought into Mr. Godfrey. While his initial appointment was largely damage control following an OLG spending scandal – as a high-profile Progressive Conservative, he offered political cover – he also played to the ambitions of the premier and his treasurer. Both liked the idea of building shiny monuments, and had a tendency to fall under the thrall of those who promised grandeur.
Whether Mr. Godfrey deserved this faith is a matter of opinion. Some familiar with his work appreciate his willingness to think big; others, not so much. Considering that this is the guy who helped bring Major League Baseball to Toronto and then stuck it with a white elephant of a stadium, there is evidence to support both views. In any event, it became obvious this week that Ms. Wynne is more skeptical about Mr. Godfrey and what he is selling than was her predecessor.
She can hardly be said to have abandoned the expansion of gambling; there are still plans for OLG to get into online gaming, more aggressively sell lottery tickets and build new casinos. But she is clearly ill at ease with the idea of using financial incentives to convince Toronto’s municipal council to overlook local opposition and plunk a new gambling mecca on the city’s waterfront, in pursuit of the “golden mile” of development that captured Mr. Duncan’s fancy.
As for the septuagenarian salesman, it is extremely difficult to imagine his charms working as well on Ms. Wynne as they did on Mr. McGuinty. A Premier who came of political age as a left-of-centre urban activist opposing Toronto’s amalgamation into a “megacity,” and who has branded herself around her enthusiasm for “conversation” and consensus, is an unlikely fit with a fast-talker in a pinstripe suit who had made his mark working the backrooms and wouldn’t know what to do with a grassroot if it sprung up in his backyard.
It would be unwise to write off Mr. Godfrey’s future at OLG. The fact that he has been a pivotal player in his city for at least 40 years, dating back to his time as chairman of what was then Metropolitan Toronto, speaks to his political savvy. The smiling manner in which he brushed off questions about a perceived dressing- down from Ms. Wynne was testament to his adaptability.
How long he will want to keep that post is a different matter. There will always be somewhere for Mr. Godfrey , one of the most well-connected people in the country’s largest city, to try to turn his dreams into reality. It just might not be working for a government run by someone who took only a couple of months to grow uncomfortable with his wheeling and dealing.