Councillors and residents start parallel meeting out of frustration with the official proceedings.
The City of Toronto had a plan for consulting the public about the prospect of permitting a casino in Toronto. They would hold a series of open houses—five in all, at locations across the city—with the dual purpose of providing information about the pros and cons of the various casino options, and gathering feedback from those residents who had opinions on the subject.
Wednesday night at City Hall, at the first of those public meetings, that plan lasted about half an hour. Then one councillor stood up on a chair, waved his arms, and said “Hi everyone, can I have your attention?”
The consultation, more or less, fell prey to a coup—one which, as quickly became apparent, was backed by a comfortable majority of the people who were present.
Things started sedately enough. Residents entered the City Hall rotunda to find the usual assortment of open house accoutrements: printed information sheets, large posterboards with diagrams and key details, blank survey forms to fill out, and name-tagged City staff on hand to answer questions.
It wasn’t quite what many had expected, however. When they heard “public consultation meeting,” they thought that there would be some sort of opportunity to speak, well, publicly—to hear from other residents and share their own opinions in an organized setting. To get a sense, perhaps, of whether there was anything like a consensus view about casinos, and hear some arguments for and against.
The first two councillors that we saw when we walked into City Hall said, independently of one another, exactly the same thing: this is how you run a consultation when you’re trying to keep people calm, when you think you might not like how things go if everyone actually gets up in front of a microphone to share their views.
And so at 6:30 p.m., a half-hour into proceedings, Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) got up on a chair. He and the other councillors in the room had been fielding complaints, he said, from residents who were frustrated by the absence of any opportunity to hold a collective conversation. To provide that option for those who wanted it, Perks announced, an impromptu gathering would take place one floor up, in one of City Hall’s meeting rooms, and everyone was invited.
Thirty minutes later, there were about twice as many people in that unofficial meeting as there were still downstairs at the posterboards, in the planned consultation. Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) moderated and Janet Davis (Ward 31, Beaches-East York) took notes on a large easel that had somehow materialized. (Other councillors present: Paula Fletcher, Sarah Doucette, Adam Vaughan, Mike Layton, and Pam McConnell.)
Of the people who spoke publicly, the vast majority were opposed to allowing a casino anywhere in Toronto. Some lived near potential locations and were concerned about the disruptions to their communities; some had lost a loved one to gambling addiction and were fearful of the social ills a casino might bring. And many simply said that it wasn’t the kind of city they wanted to live in—one that tried to balance its books with gaming revenues. There was one song, courtesy of two Raging Grannies, sung to the tune of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” And there were a few cracks at the expense of OLG chair Paul Godfrey, who remarked earlier this week that we could put a casino downtown since it wasn’t a residential neighbourhood.
There were also some casino proponents, many identifying as union representatives or as people who worked in the gaming industry, who argued that Toronto needs more good jobs and a casino could help provide them. In keeping with the communal spirit of the meeting, residents applauded after their speeches, too.
We asked a City spokesperson whether the evening’s unexpected turn of events might mean that the rest of the scheduled consultation meetings would include an opportunity for residents to publicly share their views. “I am sure there will be some discussion,” she said, though as far as she knew no substantial changes have (yet) been contemplated.
Four more meetings are planned, and a survey will be online for several more weeks.
Take the City’s survey.
PUBLIC MEETING SCHEDULE
- Saturday, January 12; 1–4 p.m.
North York Memorial Hall (5110 Yonge Street)
- Monday, January 14; 6–9 p.m.
Etobicoke Olympium Gymnasium (590 Rathburn Road)
- Thursday, January 17; 6–9 p.m.
Scarborough Civic Centre Rotunda (150 Borough Drive)
- Saturday, January 19; 1–4 p.m.
Bluma Appel Salon at Reference Library (789 Yonge Street)
Timeline for Casino Debate
- City held “significant and serious discussions” with the OLG regarding hosting fees and location options. Those discussions produced the number we now have—the $50–$100 million estimated hosting fee.
- Public consultations are held online and in meetings across the city.
- We get a final, exact number—the specific hosting fee the OLG would give to Toronto if council approved a casino.
- Staff prepare a report for city council, summarizing the public consultations and including the results of discussions with the OLG. The report will also include staff’s recommendations regarding the preferred location of a potential casino, and how much revenue they think is enough to make the whole prospect of a casino worthwhile.
- On March 20 the Executive Committee debates a casino; members of the public will be able to sign up and offer their views one last time.
April 3-4, 2013
- City council makes a final decision about whether to permit a casino, and if so, where.
The City of Toronto’s report on a casino: [PDF]
Ernst & Young’s report: [PDF]
The Medical Officer of Health’s report on the impacts of gambling expansion: [PDF]
OLG’s modernization plan: [PDF]