The planned casinos in Ontario have seen raging debate across the province throughout the fall with heated opinion on both sides pushing the cause. Criticism of the OLG has been at the forefront of discussion as the forced deadline that communities must vote to ratify or reject the casino proposal by the end of 2012 has not been welcomed in many communities. Hamilton city council previously suggested putting the issue on the 2014 election ballot which was shot down by the OLG as too long a wait; now that idea may be resurrected.
The leader of Ontario’s NDP party Andrea Horwath weighed into the discussion at Hamilton city hall earlier this week; the NDP leader’s riding lies within one of Hamilton’s wards. Speaking before council Horwath said she took up Hamilton councilor Sam Merulla’s referendum idea and put it before the Ontario legislature. She says this is the only way the people of Ontario get the final say in a democratic process on whether casinos are built in their communities.
“This is the responsibility of the provincial government to ensure that a proper process takes place.”
Councilor Merulla co-hosted the announcement with Horwath and is pleased the idea is still on the table, politically speaking. Because the governing Liberals who first announced the casino plans with the OLG are in a minority position in Parliament; Horwath’s motion could force the ballot referendum into play if the fellow opposition Conservatives joins the NDP in voting for it.
The OLG has rejected the 2014 referendum before and has not agreed with Horwath’s decision to put it before the Ontario legislature. They argue that the extra millions of dollars generated from the casinos won’t reach the provinces until the development process is complete and waiting until 2014 will only make the wait longer.
“The longer it takes to finalize all of these processes, the longer it will take to add that contribution,” said OLG spokesman Tony Bitonti.
Ottawa council has now voted in favour of seeking a proposal from the OLG and debate in Toronto is deeply underway. Hamilton council is currently planning telephone surveys to generate public opinion on the merits of the casino as well as a proposed location; but Horwath’s motion could give Ontarians the chance to truly express their opinions on the OLG.