Rob Ford Declares Toronto Casino Debate “Dead”

The OLG gaming modernization strategy appeared to collapse under its own weight yesterday.  OLG Chairman Paul Godfrey was let go from his position by the Ontario government only hours after Toronto Mayor Rob Ford announced the city’s casino debate is “dead.”

Rob Ford held an impromptu press conference late afternoon, at which he presented himself calmly but restraining his anger.  The mayor planned a special city council meeting on May 21 to officially decide the fate of the OLG’s proposed casino for downtown Toronto.  Ford announced yesterday that he was scrapping the debate because the Ontario government is still unwilling to provide answers that councilors need to make an informed decision.

Ford made a political gamble by stating he believed Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa understood Toronto’s concerns.  Instead, the mayor laid the blame for the “dead” casino proposal at the feet of Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Yesterday, we asked the Premier’s office to confirm that her government still wants a casino in Toronto.  In conversations today, we have received no clear answer to that question.”

Ford said Toronto repeatedly asked the Ontario government for clarity on the casino proposal, and specifically cited the revenue sharing agreement with the OLG as one of the main concerns.  Ford demanded that Toronto receive a minimum of $100 million annually to host the casino, which he believed would make it worthwhile and in the best interests of Toronto taxpayers.

Only one hour later, Sousa’s office revealed that the revenue sharing agreement with all Ontario municipalities, including Toronto, is worth $53.7 million.  A statement from Sousa’s press secretary Susie Heath stated that the government is “confident” the revenue sharing agreement “is fair to all municipalities.” Ford, not surprisingly, shares a different view.

If the province won’t agree to that $100 million, then folks, the deal is dead.”

Ford’s faith in Sousa may be more misplaced than he realized as the Finance Minister released another statement later in the day informing the public that Paul Godfrey is no longer Chairman of the OLG.  Godfrey was one of the architects of the Toronto casino proposal, which was constructed in agreement with former Premier Dalton McGuinty.  Godfrey later told the media that he spoke with Premier Wynne, who mentioned that her government “was going in a different direction.”

Toronto may still hold their May 21 meeting, as anti-casino city councilors want to hold the meeting, and officially defeat the casino.  Councilor Mike Layton, son of former NDP Leader Jack Layton and an avid opponent of the casino, says Torontonians want closure on the casino proposal.  Layton says if a majority of councilors demand the debate, Ford must allow it to proceed as scheduled.  He says 23 councilors already signed onto demand the meeting.

Let’s have the debate, let’s finish this off.”

The future of gambling in Toronto, as well as all of Ontario, is a question that will seemingly be left to answer another day. 

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