POLITICS

Plan for Toronto casino in jeopardy after province refuses to divulge hosting fees

05/16/2013 01:09 EDT | Updated 07/16/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Toronto Mayor Rob Ford threatened to kill plans for a new casino in the city Thursday unless Ontario’s governing Liberals divulged how much money it could bring in for Canada’s most populous city.

In a hastily called news conference, Ford said if the province doesn’t agree to at least $100 million a year in hosting fees, the “deal is dead.”

But after Ford spoke, Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s office said a new formula would give Toronto $53.7 million a year, far below Ford’s expectations.

Ford said he had cancelled a meeting next Tuesday where the council was expected to make a decision about hosting a casino. He said he would also recommend that no further action be taken when the matter returns to council June 11.

“Hosting a casino in Toronto that does little to address Toronto’s financial needs and simply makes the provincial government richer is not in this great city’s interests whatsoever,” Ford said.

He said he would not ask council to go through a “very gruelling and divisive debate” to approve a casino that Premier Kathleen Wynne is no longer interested in, he said.

“I’m not here to play games,” Ford said. “I think the province has played enough games and that’s it.”

Ford’s tongue-lashing came just a few hours after the governing Liberals said Toronto may have to make its decision without knowing the new revenue-sharing formula for hosting cities.

Sousa confirmed that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. handed him a revised hosting fees formula last month and said it would be released “in due course.”

He said Toronto has to make a decision about a casino on its own merits, not how much money it will bring in.

“In the end, Toronto may say no, regardless of what formula we put in,” said Sousa. “What’s important is that we do something that’s equal to everyone, and every area of the province.”

The OLG was sent back to the drawing board in March amid reports that it was offering a special deal to Toronto that would see the city collect $100 million in hosting fees.

OLG chairman Paul Godfrey was fired Thursday and the board resigned.

Godfrey said he wasn’t given a reason for his dismissal but didn’t think it had anything to do with Ford’s announcement.

The Crown corporation denied there was any special deal, but said it would rewrite the formula to meet Wynne’s orders that all cities and towns be treated exactly the same.

But Wynne didn’t seem to know that the OLG had handed the revised formula back to her government, saying the corporation was still finalizing it.

“There hasn’t been a final decision yet and city council will need to make it’s decision about the timing of it’s debate,” she said Thursday morning in Woodbridge, Ont.

Wynne just doesn’t get it, Ford said.

“I just don’t think that they understand ... you’d have to ask them, how important creating 10,000 good-paying jobs is to this city? What that extra revenue would do?”

Getting at least $100 million is a “fair share,” not a special deal, he added.

“I’m not going to go ahead without a funding formula,” Ford said.

“If I don’t have the numbers in front of me, how can I go out and sell something, or try to go to council and convince councillors to say, ’Here, we got a deal,”’ he said.

“There is no deal. There’s nothing on the table.”

His brother, Coun. Doug Ford, went a step further. The debate is over, even if Wynne announces tomorrow that the city will get their asking price, which would have gone into building subways and subsidized housing, he said.

“It’s dead,” he said. “It’s over.”

Ontario New Democrat Michael Prue accused Sousa of hiding the formula and keeping the city in the dark.

“The government has to be honest,” he said.

“They have to be forthright and they have to say why they’ve chosen a path forward, and they have to let people know that path before decisions are made. And that’s what they’re not doing.”

A spokeswoman for Sousa said the government “appreciates the mayor’s comments but we’ll put out the formula when we’re ready and are confident that it is fair to all municipalities.”