Rob Ford and Dalton McGuinty had trouble playing nice sometimes, and Kathleen Wynne’s arrival seemed like an opportunity to improve relations between Queen’s Park and city hall. Then Wynne embarked on an ambitious campaign to find new revenue sources (like taxes and tolls) to pay for transit expansion, a notion Ford has made very clear he doesn’t support. Things quickly devolved from there. Here, a timeline chronicling Ford and Wynne’s steadily souring relationship.
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After more than a year of debate, Toronto’s still-hypothetical casino will soon face a crucial test. A long-awaited city staff report is in (though, unusually, it’s missing a firm yay-or-nay recommendation), and council could vote as early as next month to either kill the idea forever or invite bids from casino developers. For influential Torontonians hoping to sway the decision, now’s the last chance to come out for or against a downtown gambling den—which explains why so many have spoken up in recent days. Below, a guide to how the pro-casino and anti-casino teams stack up.
The chances of a splashy Toronto casino slimmed significantly yesterday when premier Kathleen Wynne nixed a plan to give the city a better deal (read: larger hosting fees) than any other casino-hosting region. The upshot: the much-ballyhooed $50-to-$100 million a year in cash for Toronto is likely no longer realistic, which several councillors said effectively kills any possibility of a gambling den. However, others—including Rob Ford—aren’t giving up hope. Below, reactions from some of the more opinionated players in the casino debate.
City councillors could vote on whether to allow a downtown casino as soon as next month, and they, along with the rest of Toronto, remain bitterly divided over whether it would be a money-generating pleasure palace or a traffic-generating crime magnet. In the midst of the ongoing debate, high-profile companies like MGM and Wynn have released flashy plans in hopes that big ideas and pretty renderings will help sway the naysayers. Below, we break down each company’s promises, from free CNE passes to Celine Dion concerts.
Three Toronto property giants write a letter opposing a downtown casino (and embarrassing Paul Godfrey)
Only a week after three former Toronto mayors penned a letter opposing the development of a casino in Toronto, three of the city’s largest commercial property firms have written their own letter against the idea of a downtown gambling den—but for very different reasons. Edward Sonshine, Michael Emory and Stephen Diamond, who head RioCan, Allied Properties and Diamond Corp., respectively, don’t oppose casinos on principle, but they say the traffic snarls that would result from putting one in the city’s core could “jeopardiz[e] the success of our downtown.” Specifically, the execs are worried about implications for the major mixed-use project they hope to develop at the foot of Spadina, a few blocks west of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre—one of the proposed casino locations (and the one with the fanciest renderings to date). For OLG chair and casino cheerleader Paul Godfrey, the letter is a downer twice over: it’s ammunition for the anti-gambling faction and, since Godfrey is also the chair of the board at RioCan, it’s also pretty humiliating. [Globe and Mail]
The long and sad story of the demise of Captain John’s Seafood Restaurant may soon reach an unexpected end: a Hamilton businessman wants to tow the boat to that city’s harbour and re-open it as a floating banquet hall or casino (Giorgio Mammoliti is presumably kicking himself). Don Maga told the Toronto Star that he’s on the verge of completing a deal for the MS Jadran, although he was cagey about what would happen to the $568,000 in property taxes that the City of Toronto claims are owed by John Letnik, the boat’s current owner. Jim Serba, the man behind the Save Captain John petition, says Letnik has been in talks with Maga and other potential buyers, but expressed his concerns that in the event of a sale, the captain would still be left on the hook. [Toronto Star]
Dumb and Dumber: the most idiotic things Giorgio Mammoliti and Rob Ford did during the budget debates
City council approved the 2013 operating budget just after noon today, and, despite $12-million in last-minute spending additions, this year’s debates weren’t nearly as dramatic as last year’s coup by centrist and left-wing forces. That’s not to say there weren’t shenanigans, the best of which starred habitual headline-grabbers Giorgio Mammoliti and Rob Ford.
Councillor Adam Vaughan is a staunch downtowner, a vocal casino opponent and a master of the well-timed zinger, all reasons why OLG chair and casino booster Paul Godfrey ought to have been expecting a smackdown after saying he wouldn’t want a casino in his own neighbourhood because it’s a residential zone. (Godfrey later reiterated to the Globe and Mail that “I said certainly I wouldn’t want one in my neighbourhood either. We’re not sticking it in a residential zone.”) As one might expect, Vaughan leapt to respond, penning an open letter to Ontario’s finance minister Dwight Duncan calling the comments “stupid” and noting that hundreds of thousands of people live downtown. Sounds like both sides are trying to stir up a little support for the first of Toronto’s public consultations on the casino, which, coincidentally, start tonight. [Globe and Mail]
Reaction Roundup: Oxford’s $3-billion development proposal for Front Street (which includes a casino)
The city’s councillors and columnists are now debating the benefits and drawbacks of the second downtown mega-plan to be unveiled in as many weeks. On Friday, Oxford Properties unveiled a (previously leaked) proposal for a $3-billion revamp of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre that would add two office/residential towers, a hotel, a new Eaton Centre–esque retail space and a strip of parkland. Of course, the entire plan is contingent on Oxford getting the go-ahead to build an on-site casino—a crucial detail we imagine is meant to put pressure on casino opponents (and to position Oxford as the logical choice to build it). Unsurprisingly, politicians and pundits jumped at the fresh opportunity to weigh in on the casino debate.
The Toronto Star recently took a close look at the competition for the GTA casino, squeezing details out of insiders at MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment and some of the other mega-companies hoping to secure the contract. And the competition is fierce—one source called a development gambling’s “biggest opportunity in the world right now,” while another, working for one of the big players, estimates his client will have shelled out $2 million by the end of the bidding process (apparently, lobbyists, polls and focus groups are expensive). Interestingly, MGM has reportedly suggested it would help pay for a long-overdue rebuild of Ontario Place if given the go-ahead to build a casino across the bridge at Exhibition Place, and Caesars has expressed interest in a similar plan. Still, before the cash-strapped province can avail itself of that cash, it has to convince Toronto city council of a couple of things: a) that a casino in the city is a good idea; and b) that it should go on the waterfront. And lately, the province has seemed less willing to insist upon either of those points. Read the entire story [Toronto Star] »
Despite the fact that city council is a very long way from approving a casino in the city (the first staff report on the idea isn’t due until October), several companies are already plotting how to be the one to build it. The latest to register lobbyists is Las Vegas Sands, which will be competing alongside Vegas heavyweights MGM and Caesars Entertainment, Canadian mega-firms Onex and Oxford Properties and Larry Tanenbaum, the billionaire chair of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Las Vegas Sands senior vice-president Andy Abboud told reporters the resort giant has explored sites all over the GTA, but its main interest is in the downtown core and waterfront. Not surprising, considering the company is known for building mixed-use complexes with convention centres, retail and entertainment. (It’s also known for balancing a massive ship atop three towers in Singapore, but that’s besides the point—we hope.) [Globe and Mail]
Though the creep of condo towers across Toronto can feel inexorable, John Tory is insisting that Ontario Place could accomodate residential development without becoming home to a “wall of high-rise condos” (or a casino, either). Since February, the former Progressive Conservative leader has been heading an advisory panel tasked with figuring out what the heck to do with the down-at-heels amusement park, and yesterday, he released his final report (pdf), which describes a vibrant, multi-use public space with a Forum-like music venue. Here are the highlights from the report:
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Ontario Place is off the list of probable sites for a GTA casino, but an even more central downtown waterfront location could now be in the running. Citing two unnamed sources within Oxford Properties Group, the Toronto Star reports the company is interested in adding a casino-entertainment complex to their big revamp of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and nearby properties. Should city council okay a casino in Toronto, the centre would propose dedicating one floor to gambling in a project that would also have retail and office space and, naturally, condos. Still, we’d guess that proposal would be unlikely to succeed. First, Oxford’s plan hardly sounds like the massive entertainment complex that Paul Godfrey envisions and MGM has proposed. And second, the unnamed sources from the property group portrayed the company as “joining in the casino discussions with less zeal” than the Las Vegas developers. And it’s going to to take plenty of zeal to push a project as contentious as a downtown casino through to completion. [Toronto Star]
A Toronto casino is inevitable. Will it be an ugly box built where nobody can see it, or a glorious five-star island of fun?
“Toronto the Good” is an epithet applied only by those with a passing familiarity with the city. In truth, Toronto is a place where you can indulge your vices with ease and comfort and the relative security that you’ll be left alone with your degradation. Valerie Scott, legal coordinator for the lobby group Sex Professionals of Canada, recently explained to reporters that Torontonians shouldn’t worry about a sudden explosion of brothels after a ruling that legalizes bawdy houses: “There have been brothels in practically every condo and apartment building in Toronto. People have no idea they exist, we are so discreet.” Toronto’s virtue has always been superficial, little more than a collective pursing of the lips. The same squeamish moralism is now at work on the issue of a downtown casino, and a huge opportunity for the city may well be wasted on its account. The debate we should be having is the one we are most predisposed to avoid: not whether we should have a casino, but how we can make the casino we will have fabulous.
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In case Toronto takes a pass on the Ontario government’s offer to build a gambling hot spot in the city, Mississauga has been pegged as the casino heir apparent—except the suburb’s council and longtime mayor Hazel McCallion also seem pretty ambivalent about having a complex on their waterfront. McCallion recently said she is “not chasing a casino” because Mississauga lacks a suitably large parcel of land (although she did says she hasn’t completely ruled out the possibility and has had a “friendly visit” with OLG chair Paul Godfrey). Now, McCallion has nixed the idea of even holding a referendum to decide whether to support the idea, saying she’d prefer to leave it up to the public. Which is a little odd, because aren’t referendums all about finding out what the public thinks? [Toronto Star]