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Toronto Lobbying role leaves Metrolinx head out of talks on casino impact

Robert S. Prichard, then-President and CEO of Metrolinx, photographed at Union Station., Toronto on September 9, 2009.

FERNANDO MORALES/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The head of Ontario's regional transit agency will have to stay out of discussions involving a Toronto casino and the impact on traffic and transportation because he's also registered as a lobbyist for one of the giant consortiums pushing to build a gambling resort downtown.

Metrolinx chairman Robert Prichard has agreed to leave the room if the topic of new casinos and the accompanying transit issues involved in choosing a location comes up during board meetings. This is part of an undertaking he made to Metrolinx to prevent a potential conflict of interest in his dual roles as head of the provincial agency and registered lobbyist for a private-sector casino operator.

MGM Resorts International retained Mr. Prichard and Torys LLP, the law firm he also chairs, last July, according to the Ontario lobbyist registry. The Nevada-based casino operator is part of a group that wants to build a waterfront gambling complex at Exhibition Place in downtown Toronto. It is Torys' expertise in corporate law that is of interest to MGM. The law firm is not lobbying Toronto city councillors, who will vote next month on whether to allow a downtown Toronto casino.

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But Torys will get to lobby officials at the province's lottery corporation and the Ministry of Finance if Toronto councillors give a casino the green light, according to the registry.

"In fact, we have nothing to do," Mr. Prichard said in an interview. "Depending on how things go, we may never have anything to do."

Nevertheless, he said he took "prophylactic steps" to avoid a potential conflict of interest as head of Metrolinx, which, along with city hall, is considering how to address traffic congestion in Toronto. A casino resort in Toronto would add to traffic on the city's gridlocked streets.

"I have pre-emptively said if there is ever an issue involving the casino file and Metrolinx, do not include me," Mr. Prichard said. "As far as I know, there has not been."

Mr. Prichard sought the advice of Ontario's Conflict of Interest Commissioner, Mr. Justice Sidney Linden, who advised him to excuse himself from any meetings at Metrolinx related to transportation and a casino as well as any meetings at MGM involving transportation and transit planning.

MGM and its Canadian partner, real estate developer Cadillac Fairview, are proposing a radical remake of Exhibition Place that includes new transit connections and lakeside paths.

Glen Murray, the Ontario government's new Transportation Minister, said in an e-mail response to The Globe and Mail that Mr. Prichard dealt with the potential conflict appropriately.

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"Rob has done the right thing and sought the advice of the conflict of interest commissioner," Mr. Murray said.

Opposition members, however, were far from comfortable. Progressive Conservative transportation critic Frank Klees said the Metrolinx chief could be exposed to questions about the objectivity of recommendations the agency makes concerning transit and a casino.

"Metrolinx should be the voice of credibility when it comes to gridlock and transit issues in the Greater Toronto Area," Mr. Klees said. "I think Mr. Prichard could be putting himself into a very untenable situation."

Jonah Schein, transportation critic for the New Democrats, said Metrolinx's board could spend much of its time on transit issues involving a proposed Toronto casino. "I don't see how he could excuse himself from a part [of the job]. He should choose one or the other."

Toronto buyout firm Onex Corp. is also interested in developing a Toronto casino. Mr. Prichard sits on the board of Onex.

Other casino lobbyists defended him.

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"Good for Rob for actually registering," said one who asked not to be named. "So many people in that highfalutin circle don't."

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