Saying No To Toronto Casino Puts City And Province Nicely In Sync

By Peter Russell

Toronto city council’s rejection of a casino, followed by Premier Kathleen Wynne’s removal of Paul Godfrey from the Chairmanship of Ontario Lottery and Gaming, is a landmark event in the history of the city and the province.

City council made its decision through a full discussion and debate, which ended with a large majority saying no to a casino in Toronto.

That is the right way to make decisions in a democratic society, though it is a way we see too little of these days, and a process strongly opposed by the city’s dysfunctional mayor.

The premier, in making a change in the leadership of the commission that regulates public gaming and gambling in the province, made it clear that her government was in sync with the city.

Paul Godfrey said his dismissal by the premier was just a clash of personalities.

It was much more than that.

It was a change in direction of provincial policy on the role of public gaming and gambling in the province.

Horse-race betting, slots and casinos will continue to operate in the province.

But the job of the commission that regulates them is to ensure their integrity, rather than promoting and expanding these activities.

They will go on in communities that want them and they will continue to provide public revenues.

But Ontario will not rely on their expansion to solve its fiscal problems.

Members of Toronto’s city council gave compelling reasons for rejecting a casino in their city.

They did not deny that it could provide jobs – even some good jobs – and in that sense boost the local economy.

But at a terrible price – the broken lives of the suckers who cannot settle for an occasional night out but keep coming back because they think they can win the jack pot or beat the house and solve all their problems.

As Councillor John Parker put it in a message to his constituents, “In a city as large and enterprising as Toronto, God help us if our economy has slid so low that we have to turn to a casino to help pull us out of our slump. Lets hope we have not run out of better and more productive ways to pay our bills.”

The council, in effect, made a life-style decision.

Yes, we want a city whose residents prosper and that attracts visitors, but we also want a city that doesn’t rely on the proclivities of its most gullible and desperate citizens to fund its services, or on the dumb games casinos offer to entertain its visitors.  

And the province, led by a premier who knows how to listen and shares the views of the city in which she has long resided, acted in unison with council’s decision.

In these scandal-rocked times, which are engendering distrust in our public institutions, it was nice to have a good day for democracy in Toronto and Ontario – with long term benefits for us all.

About Peter Russell

Peter H. Russell is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is one of Canada’s leading constitutional scholars, has published widely in the fields of aboriginal policy, the judiciary and parliamentary democracy, and is a frequent commentator on Canadian government and politics. He is the founding Principal of Senior College at the University of Toronto. Peter Russell is an Officer of the Order of Canada and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
Posted date : May 28, 2013

View all of Peter Russell's columns
Political observers were puzzled when Premier Wynne played the election threat card recently, then almost immediately backtracked. Hershell Ezrin has some thoughts on her strategy.
September 17, 2013
Stephen Harper's last two prorogations were the work of a tyrant. This latest one, says parliamentary expert Peter Russell, is the work of a stumble bum prime minister just lurching along.
September 04, 2013
Toronto council's decision against a casino puts the city in perfect sync with the Wynne government - exactly as democracy is supposed to work, says the parliamentary expert
May 28, 2013
Charges in a new book that the late Supreme Court Justice Bora Laskin undermined the repatriation of Canada's constitution in 1982 are just plain wrong.
May 23, 2013
While Premier Wynne has reached out to the opposition leaders with the new budget, Andrea Horwath is playing a game of political chicken we all might live to regret.
May 07, 2013
We can't expect tomorrow's leaders to be effective citizens without teaching them how government works today. But the current mandatory high school civics course being used is inadequate.
April 22, 2013
Whereas his father Pierre faced a constitutional crisis with Quebec threatening to leave Canada, his son faces one of a different sort: a malfunctioning parliamentary democracy.
April 16, 2013
The CPC can't possibly govern intelligently by gagging scientists and stopping them from doing proper scientific research. And that means we'll all pay.
April 10, 2013
Phillippe Couillard's idea to make Quebec a constitutional signatory by 2017 is big mistake. Constitutional expert Russell warns not to go down that road again.
March 25, 2013
The Harper government is refusing a visa to one of the world's leading experts on the rights of indigenous peoples, UN "rapporteur" Dr. James Anaya. Is it afraid of what he may report?
March 19, 2013
Although not a Liberal, the parliamentary expert is endorsing Vancouver MP Joyce Murray for Liberal leader. He particularly likes her ideas to reform our sagging democracy.
March 04, 2013
There are signs that Mr. Harper may be turning to the political centre-a bit. It's easy to see why: his party is lagging in the polls, and he'd like to keep his majority next election.
February 19, 2013