Talk of a possible casino for Toronto is the latest issue to create fault lines between downtown and suburban councillors.
As community councils met across the city Tuesday, a clear difference of opinion emerged on the controversial casino question, with city centre politicians looking for ways to block future developments and Scarborough councillors signalling they are game for a discussion.
Councillor Adam Vaughan got unanimous backing Tuesday morning from councillors of the former city of Toronto and East York for a bid to change zoning rules to prohibit casinos in their wards.
Mr. Vaughan said talk earlier this week about using gaming as a possible source of revenue to build subways prompted his request.
“It is not an appropriate way for Toronto to move forward,” he told reporters. “It is not an appropriate use along the waterfront, it is not an appropriate use in our vibrant, beautiful downtown and it is not the way we should be financing public policy.”
A few hours later, at a meeting at Scarborough Civic Centre, councillors who had caught wind of the downtown request on Twitter, endorsed in principle casino development.
“It was sheer frustration,” Councillor Paul Ainslie explained. “We need to have a mature conversation about the pros and cons of casinos. How can we have that conversation when the downtown core is saying it is not good enough for us?”
Mr. Ainslie said he would support a casino in his ward if it was shown to be a workable option.
One Scarborough councillor, Chin Lee, voted against the motion and two others, Ron Moser and Gary Crawford, were absent.
Ontario’s lottery corporation is pushing for a casino in Toronto, with Ontario Place pegged by many as an ideal location for what would be the country’s most lucrative gaming licence. It will ultimately be the province’s call, but the Ford administration has signalled it would back a casino, provided it had public support.
The request by Mr. Vaughan asks city staff for a September report on zoning regulations for casinos with advice on actions required to prohibit them. Chief planner Gary Wright said Tuesday casinos are not permitted under existing zoning and “gaming establishments” are prohibited in North York.
The province does have the power to override municipal zoning rules, he said, and the city has less authority over land use on provincial property.
The idea of using casinos as a way to fund subway expansion was raised Monday by deputy mayor Doug Holyday. Although historically a critic of casinos, he said he would support the idea as a way to fund transit. “What better use of that money, and there will be hundreds of millions of dollars,” the Etobicoke councillor said.
Councillor Doug Ford, who also represents an Etobicoke ward, has said he is open to bringing a casino to the city. “If it would create jobs and bring tourists, the answer is yes, and if we could get a piece of the pie it would go toward transit,” he said earlier this year. “We need to build subways.”