Toronto’s casino debate is going to last a little longer now that Mayor Rob Ford has requested a special meeting to decide the controversial question.
Mr. Ford said Tuesday that he wants to devote a council meeting to the casino issue. The date of that meeting, likely toward the end of this month, is expected to be released Wednesday morning by the city clerk.
“We’re just trying to find the right date right now,” Mr. Ford said. “Some people are away, so we’re just canvassing the councillors to make sure everyone’s here for the vote.”
Without the special meeting, the casino report from the city manager would be on the agenda of next week’s regular council meeting.
Even with the delay, the odds of a downtown casino gaining the approval of city council are slim, with a growing list of councillors saying they cannot support plans for a gambling facility at Exhibition Place or the Metro Convention Centre. Opponents of the gambling site say Toronto residents deserve an answer one way or the other as soon as possible.
“I think the people of Toronto want to put this item to rest,” said Councillor Mike Layton, a critic of the casino plan. “It’s time we voted on this item. I think there is a clear direction that council will take. Toronto is not going to get a special deal so what are we holding out for?”
Councillor Gord Perks raised questions about the mayor’s tactics. “We could be getting into uncharted territory if the mayor tries to use his powers to duck this issue the way he’s been using his powers to duck every other issue for a while,” he said. “Frankly Torontonians are ready to decide.”
The mayor’s executive committee voted two weeks ago to support a downtown casino and the expansion of existing gambling facilities at Woodbine Racetrack, recommending that council say yes, provided more than 40 conditions are met.
One of the conditions is that the city receive at least $100-million in hosting fees, but the exact amount the provincial lottery agency will give the city remains uncertain. Premier Kathleen Wynne asked officials at Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. to rework their formula so that all municipalities are treated the same, after Globe and Mail stories revealed Toronto was in line for special treatment.
That review is now finished, a spokesman for the lottery agency said Tuesday. “OLG has completed its provincewide review of the Municipal Contribution Agreement and it’s in the hands of the government,” he said.
OLG wants to establish a new casino in the GTA as part of plans to expand gambling sites in the province, and the Toronto waterfront is its first choice. If Toronto rejects plans for a downtown site, the provincial agency has said it will look to locate a casino in a neighbouring municipality.
OLG’s plans for expanding gambling are expected to add an additional $1-billion to provincial coffers and are a part of Ontario’s fiscal plan to reduce the deficit. A decision on the Toronto casino – which would be the largest in the province – will have a major impact on the ability of the OLG to implement its plans.
With a report from Sunny Dhillon