Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne put her foot down yesterday against the OLG. The Premier is walking a very delicate line between supporting the gaming modernization strategy in what she considers vital for Ontario’s economy – at the same time, the government is doing all that it can to avoid alienating rural Ontarians.
OLG President Rod Phillips hinted last week that casino hosting fees for Toronto would more than double the agreements for other Ontario communities due to the size and scale of the capital investment and economic benefits from a Toronto location. Phillips indicted casino hosting fees for all Ontario communities are based on a percentage of net revenues, but the revenue projections for Toronto far outweigh those in other communities.
The pronouncement angered mayors in Niagara, Windsor, and Ottawa, the latter being the first municipal leader to approve the casino expansion strategy. Ottawa threatened to pull out of the arrangement unless the casino hosting fees for all cities were equal. Premier Wynne later stepped into the controversy and issued her veto over the OLG.
“The hosting formula for Toronto will be the same as the one for other communities. All municipalities will be treated fairly so they can all share in the benefits.”
But the Premier’s statements are also confusing as Wynne previously agreed with Phillips that Toronto would receive a greater share of casino hosting fees. The counter position is described by political insiders close to the Liberal leader as a strategic move meant to avoid alienating rural Ontario, which stands to lose the most from the OLG gaming modernization strategy. The OLG promoted Toronto as central to its expansion plans last year, and other communities interpret government support for the big city as preferential treatment at the expense of their municipalities.
The Liberals remain in a minority government, which means if they lose too much support from Ontario communities and political opponents, their government will fall. The OLG is a very divisive issue for all of Ontario, and Wynne has attempted to disassociate the OLG from the government. She repeatedly insisted that municipal votes on the casino are strictly for city councils to decide, and that the provincial government won’t interfere with the votes. However, the final decision on the OLG strategy lies with the Ontario government, and Wynne used that veto power to demand casino hosting fees for all cities are fair and equal.
Phillips has yet to comment on the Premier’s pronouncement.