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Olivia Chow weighs in on Toronto casino, but she’s not campaigning

Olivia Chow, touted as a possible mayoral candidate if the mayor loses his appeal and has to leave office, says a casino would have negative consequences for the people in her riding.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

If Olivia Chow does run for mayor, expect her to work against putting a casino downtown, or at Exhibition Place, for that matter.

Supporters of a Toronto casino, like Mayor Rob Ford, say it would bring in millions of dollars, but Ms. Chow – the MP for the downtown riding of Trinity-Spadina – is against the idea.

Ms. Chow, who has been touted as a possible candidate for the left if the mayor loses his appeal and has to leave office, said the casino would have negative consequences for the people in her riding.

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"My riding has a lot of young people living there, and the last thing I want them to do is get into a gambling addiction," she said in an interview after a Downsview Park news conference on Wednesday. "That's not good for their future or the family they're going to create or have."

She also said the city's infrastructure would not be able to support the many visitors that a casino would attract since public transit is already "packed to the gills."

"If you bring people to downtown Toronto to gamble, how are they going to get there?" she said. "It's not going to happen. Where are they going to park their cars?"

Adding the 10,000 parking spots that would be needed to support a casino would be like bringing Yorkdale Mall's parking lot – and a little extra – downtown, said Ms. Chow.

"Maybe a bike-only casino!" she joked.

A small smile spread across her face as she laughed – a sign that her facial paralysis has improved.

Ms. Chow was diagnosed with a viral infection last month known as Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which left the left side of her face paralyzed.

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Though the left side of her mouth remains slightly limp, she said she has gained better control over her eyelid and the left side of her mouth.

"I tell my friends, 'I'm behind my face. You have to put up with it!'" she said with a laugh. "It'll come back."

On Wednesday morning, she joined City of Toronto Councillor Maria Augimeri to speak out against the federal government's interest in possibly selling Downsview Park's land.

The land became an asset of the Canada Lands Company last December when the Conservative government dissolved the park's board of directors without any public consultation, said a news release.

Although Ottawa hasn't said what it plans to do with the land, selling the 261-acre park could bring in a quarter of a billion dollars in revenue, said Ms. Chow, a move she would strongly oppose.

"It's meant to be park land. It's meant to be for the people of Toronto... It shouldn't be treated as a cash cow," she said. "If there's any sale of the park land, every dollar of it needs to come back to the maintenance and operation of Downsview Park. It shouldn't go to the general revenue or the pocket of the federal government."

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City of Toronto Councillor Maria Augimeri added that the federal government's decision to develop Rouge Park into Canada's first large urban park only "adds salt to the wounds."

With its central location and access to public transit, she said Downsview Park has the potential to become one of the most important parks in the city.

She added that the federal government hasn't responded to any requests to preserve the land.

Meanwhile, Ms. Chow refused to say whether she will run for mayor in a possible by-election.

She said many Torontonians have approached her, telling her she should.

"I'm listening to their advice," she said. "And then I turn around and say, 'Hey, what do you think should happen for the city of Toronto? What do you think the mayor should do?'"

She added that though she can't predict what city council would decide if Mr. Ford has to leave office, she will "seriously consider what role I might play" once they make their decision.

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