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onw COLUMNISTS

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
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