Changes in Ontario’s gambling environment over the last few weeks are raising questions in Ottawa. The city is the only community to approve the OLG proposed casino, but that support is wavering in light of the changes.
When Ottawa approved the casino, the Ontario government was operating on the path set out by former Premier Dalton McGuinty. The previous Ontario leadership negotiated the OLG gambling modernization strategy with former OLG Chairman Paul Godfrey to promote privately funded casinos in cities across the province. McGuinty’s successor, Kathleen Wynne, is less supportive of gambling, and instituted a notable change in attitude from her predecessor towards the OLG’s plans. While Wynne refused to reverse the course laid out by McGuinty, she refuses to allow the government to lobby city councils in favour of the casinos.
However, Wynne instituted one major change that raised questions in Ottawa, Toronto, and other casino debating communities. Paul Godfrey was fired from his position as Chairman of the OLG, which led to the resignation of the entire OLG Board in protest over the government’s decision. Critics argue that the OLG lost its leadership while in the middle of the modernization strategy, which indicates that Wynne may take the gambling file in a different direction after all.
The changes are causing many Ottawa city councilors to reconsider their previous support for the casino. Toronto councilors rejected the OLG casino earlier this week by an overwhelming margin, and Ottawa councilor Tim Tierney will introduce a motion in June to reopen his city’s casino debate. Tierney says the rejection in Toronto, a community that was granted more time and information before putting the issue to vote, is disheartening for Ottawa. Tierney and his supporters believe the casino file was fast-tracked in their community.
“Look at the city of Toronto, they voted 40 to 4 against a casino downtown there. These were things we were never allowed to do under the initial discussions with the OLG so I consider that new information.”
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson remains committed to the casino, and will oppose Tierney’s motion. According to administrative protocol, Tierney will require support from 75 percent of Ottawa’s councilors to overrule the mayor’s objections.
Regardless of the outcome, the casino debate in Ottawa appears to be unfinished.