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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford answers questions at an event in Toronto on March 26, 2013. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford answers questions at an event in Toronto on March 26, 2013. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Mayor’s letter touts benefits of casino, scooping city’s staff report Add to ...

Mayor Rob Ford has circulated an “open letter” to media outlets throughout the city, highlighting the many ways a downtown casino would benefit Toronto. It cites figures on job creation, revenue and tourism, all of which are drawn from a highly anticipated staff report, according to the mayor’s press secretary.

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That report, which was set to be released earlier this spring, had been delayed and, in turn, so has a council vote on whether the city should play host to a casino.

Whether the report will be released tomorrow has been a source of confusion in the city. George Christopoulos, the mayor’s press secretary, said it would be available Monday.

But Jackie DeSouza, a spokesperson for the City of Toronto, said she could not confirm the report’s release date.

Mike Layton, one of council’s most vocal casino opponents, called the mayor’s decision to release select parts of the report to media before sharing them with the rest of council “incredibly dishonest.”

“To not give us the benefit of the doubt of sharing some of the background information before it’s public isn’t the way governments should be operated. It isn’t the way the mayor should work,” said Mr. Layton.

Michael Thompson, chair of the economic development committee, said Sunday night that he had not yet seen the report but had read the mayor’s letter.

“It wasn’t that the report was being withheld from me. I wasn’t able to make myself available.”

In any case, the numbers from Mr. Ford’s letter are not very different from the ones he has been repeating for months.

The letter notes the casino could bring in 10,000 permanent jobs and 7,000 to 11,000 temporary construction jobs to the city as well as up to $150-million in annual revenue. In terms of tourism, Mr. Ford said a casino complex could draw an extra 130,000 business visitors who would spend $392-million in the city.

“This is a golden opportunity for Toronto and one we probably won’t see again for a generation,” Mr. Ford said in the letter.

The numbers Mr. Ford has referenced so far don’t tell the whole picture of how a casino would impact the city, said Kevin Stolarick, research director at the Martin Prosperity Institute. Last month, he published a report titled “The Economic ‘Impact’ of a Downtown Casino in Toronto” in which he said all the numbers bandied about in relation to the casino were “meaningless.”

In particular, he picks at the number of temporary construction jobs a casino could provide. Booming development in the city has created plenty of jobs for construction workers, he said.

“If you are creating those jobs, you are taking them away from someone else, basically … we actually have to divert people away from other things to be able to do this,” he said.

While Mr. Ford’s letter says the average salary of casino employees will be about $55,000, that’s at the top end of estimates Ernst & Young prepared for the city in a report published last fall. The report said the average annual salary for casino-related jobs would range from $35,000 to $55,000 but the authors noted only about a third of the jobs created by the complex would be casino-related. Mr. Stolarick said those could come with much lower salaries and largely be part-time positions without benefits.

Even if the promised jobs come to town, Mr. Layton said what casino proponents are missing is how such a complex will affect the city as a whole: the infrastructure costs, how increased traffic would “paralyze a neighbourhood,” how nearby restaurants and retailers will be able to compete with those in the the casino complex.

“Yes the casino will take in money – that’s not up for debate, that’s what casinos do – but it will cost us in the end,” he said.

While Mr. Ford mentions twice in his letter that a downtown casino would bring in $150-million per year for the city, that figure is in dispute. Since January, the OLG has said Toronto would get between $50-million and $100-million in hosting fees, which would be a larger cut of revenue than other potential host cities would receive.

Several councillors have said their vote in favour of a downtown casino is dependent on the city bringing in an annual $100-million from agreeing to play host to the casino.

In March, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said she won’t allow for special treatment for the city and has said there must be one funding formula for all municipalities. The exact amount of casino revenue Toronto would receive is still in question.

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