Skip to main content

Politics Insider delivers premium analysis and access to Canada's policymakers and politicians. Visit the Politics Insider homepage for insight available only to subscribers.

It came as something of an aside, toward the end of the Thursday evening press conference at which a clearly embittered Paul Godfrey responded to his ouster as chair of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.

Back when Kathleen Wynne was still just a cabinet minister, Mr. Godfrey recalled, he briefed her on OLG's "modernization" plan. And he could tell then, from her questions and her body language, that she was deeply uncomfortable with it.

The Premier's personal views go some distance toward explaining why she thwarted efforts to offer Toronto's municipal government extra financial incentive to endorse the plan's centrepiece, a gleaming new casino – and why, in turn, she and Mr. Godfrey could not sustain a viable working relationship.

But there is another reason, too, why Ms. Wynne is likely very relieved that a Toronto casino now seems to be dead in the water: It will preserve what is probably her best (if still fairly slim) hope of winning back majority government for her Liberals.

If the Liberals' leadership change from Dalton McGuinty gave them a good chance of picking up new seats anywhere, it was in downtown Toronto. NDP-held ridings such as Trinity-Spadina, Toronto-Danforth and Beaches-East York are now in the Liberals' sights, because Ms. Wynne – perceived to be a left-of-centre urbanite – could play very well there.

Those also happen to be ridings which would either have played host to the casino or been near to it. No doubt, as throughout the city, opinion on the subject has been divided. But even if it were an even 50/50 split, the anti-casino side would be more passionate and thus more politically powerful. Very few people would vote for a government because it brought them a casino; a good number, believing the casino would be destructive to their community, would vote against the government for that reason.

No wonder that the ridings' New Democratic MPPs have spent a lot of time in the last few months leading anti-casino campaigns – especially when one looks more closely at how Ms. Wynne has otherwise been eating NDP Leader Andrea Horwath's lunch of late.

Consider a recent public-opinion survey by Innovative Research Group, provided to The Globe and Mail earlier this week. When pollster Greg Lyle broke down Ontarians into what he refers to as "value clusters," he found Ms. Wynne's party ahead of the NDP among "core left," "left liberal" and "new labour" voters – the sorts of groups that are likely well-represented downtown, and also the sorts that could get very worked up about a casino. (The NDP's shift toward pocketbook populism under Andrea Horwath has it besting the Liberals among "besieged moderates" – potentially helpful in smaller cities or suburbia.)

Ms. Wynne could not come out stridently against a Toronto casino without calling into question her government's ongoing reliance on gaming revenues, which it could not afford to abandon. So, from her perspective, she did the next best thing – signalling that she would defer to Toronto council's will, refusing to try to steer it away from opposing the casino, and then deposing the OLG chair who tried to do just that.

Her actions were indicative of how differently she sees the world from her predecessor, who appointed Mr. Godfrey and put a great deal of faith in him. But they also spoke to how the political landscape has changed since she took over.

Adam Radwanski is The Globe's Ontario politics columnist.