Plans to build a casino in downtown Toronto have lost all signs of life, with the province preparing to give the city about half the revenue it was demanding and the departure of the project's biggest fan – OLG chairman Paul Godfrey.
Ontario's new casino revenue formula would give Toronto $53.7-million in annual hosting fees, Queen's Park sources confirmed late Thursday, far short of the $100-million line in the sand drawn by Mayor Rob Ford and his council supporters. The new hosting figure would include Toronto's take from a downtown complex, as well as the slots at Woodbine Racetrack, they said.
Mr. Godfrey, who was asked by the province Thursday to step down as chairman of Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., said the former premier and finance minister were well aware of the arrangement the agency was negotiating with Toronto that would have seen it get between $50-million and $100-million in hosting fees – well above what was on offer to others. That plan was nixed by Premier Kathleen Wynne after reports in The Globe and Mail. The new Premier told OLG to treat all sites the same.
Mr. Godfrey also confirmed he told Mr. Ford his expectations for hosting fees above $150-million were out of line. "You've got to be realistic," he said.
During their most recent exchange, Mr. Godfrey said he told the mayor, "Obviously the Premier doesn't like $50- to $100-million. We are waiting to hear what she does like."
At an evening news conference Mr. Godfrey was asked whether he felt he was left on his own to advocate for the downtown complex. "Some people would say that," he said. "I was certainly an outspoken person in favour of it."
He would not lay blame for the project's failure.
News of the hosting number and Mr. Godfrey's departure emerged a few hours after the mayor held a snap news conference to declare the casino plan dead, cancelling a special council debate set for Tuesday and saying he never wanted a casino unless it came with $100-million in annual fees.
"If the province won't agree to that $100-million, then, folks, the deal is dead," Mr. Ford declared. "Contrary to what many people said, I'm not married to a casino. I never campaigned on a casino. I'm trying to work with our provincial partners to benefit both the province and the city with extra revenue."
The mayor said his office has repeatedly contacted the Premier's staff, but had failed to get any answers. "I'm sick and tired of playing games," he said.
But moments after the mayor called off the special meeting, a group of Toronto councillors said they are working to overrule the mayor and hold the debate as planned. Under council rules, a meeting can be called with one or two day's notice with the support of 23 councillors. The group, led by Councillor Mike Layton, began collecting signatures even before the mayor's announcement, suspecting he might try to delay the debate. By day's end, sources indicated they had more than 20 signatures and were expecting more.
Several councillors said that after more than a year of debate, two staff reports and countless public meetings, they wanted a chance to vote on the matter. "The right thing to do at this point is put a period at the end of the sentence and a debate would do that," Councillor John Parker said.
Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby said a debate would allow council to weigh in on the city's other gambling site – the existing casino at Woodbine Racetrack. Ms. Lindsay Luby and several other councillors who oppose a downtown casino have expressed support for expanding the Woodbine site.
When asked, Mr. Ford indicated debate on that issue would have to wait. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," Mr. Ford told reporters. "I'm still a supporter of giving Woodbine tables, but it's not going to happen now. It might happen, you know, in a few months."
Maureen Lynett, a co-founder of the No Casino Toronto group, said she hopes council will debate and vote on the matter to prevent it from being reopened at a later date. "We want a vote. We want to put it to rest," she said.
Mr. Ford wants council to "receive" the staff casino report at its June meeting, meaning no vote would be taken.
"We want to make this decision now," Mr. Layton said. "The people of Toronto want their councillors to take a stand and other councillors want to debate this issue. I see no reason why we should wait another two weeks. Let's have a debate. Let's finish this off."