Communities across Ontario are debating the merits of the OLG casino proposal first presented last March that has divided much of the province into pro-gambling and anti-gambling groups. One of the cities that have spearheaded the process is Ottawa, which was quick to submit an approving vote in October last year. However, newly released documents reveal Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson accelerated the approval without providing enough time for a full review.
The OLG has asked that Ontario municipalities review the costs and benefits of the casino proposal before submitting a vote to approve or reject the gaming strategy. The review was meant to be arms length from the OLG so that councilors and citizens could independently analyze whether a casino is in their community’s best interest. Toronto, Hamilton, and other municipalities have hosted public consultation meetings so residents can express their honest opinions, and compile information from the meetings ahead of city council votes.
In Ottawa the process was much quicker, and allowed little review for the public to question the casino strategy. Newly released documents reveal that Mayor Watson’s chief of staff Serge Arpin was working closely with the OLG by supplying information meant for city councilors before it was presented to council. The details suggest Arpin, and by extension Mayor Watson, asked what the OLG wanted from the consultation process, and coordinated efforts to provide councilors with only the economic benefits of the casino.
Arpin worked extensively with Ottawa based OLG relations manager Giacomo Pastore to arrange meetings with the heads of the city’s departments, including the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development agencies. The heads of these departments later spoke in favour of the casino at the Ottawa finance committee reviewing the proposal, scheduled only a week before city council was scheduled to vote on the OLG plan.
This revelation follows objections made by councilors about the October vote, who argued the process was too fast and they were voting without sufficient information. The vote was held without a report detailing how a casino might affect mental health and problem gambling support groups, while the public had only one quick evening for consultation.
The revelations add some murkiness to the OLG as it awaits casino votes from other communities in Ontario. It also questions the intentions of Mayor Watson – who made no secret of his support for the casino – but is meant to remain independent from the consultation process.