by Anne Lougheed
As April waned, discussion of a possible casino in Kingston became pretty lively. Mid-month, King’s Town Councillor Rob Hutchison brought forward a motion to council to have a referendum attached to October’s municipal ballot. The referendum question, as he originally wrote it, was “Are you in favour of a casino being located in the City of Kingston? Yes or No.” During the council meeting, it was decided to add an amendment excluding the Central Business District, as most councillors (and most participants in the city’s survey) oppose a casino being located downtown.
The referendum question then became “Are you in favour of a casino being located in the City of Kingston, excluding the Central Business District (Downtown)? Yes or No.” Council had to rush to have both the mandatory public meeting and the meeting to approve the bylaw before the April 30th deadline. At those meetings, held April 29th, a number of Kingston residents and councillors expressed concern that the question was confusing; in the end it was amended back to its original form.
To complicate things, the wording of the question was finalized on the heels of the release of the Auditor General’s report on the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) Modernization Plan. The audit revealed that back in 2012, the goal of the OLG was to replace the Thousand Islands Casino with a new facility in downtown Kingston. This information was apparently not released to any of the stakeholders -in Gananoque, the Township of Leeds and Thousand Islands, and Kingston- until now.
So now we have a clear and simple referendum question, the outcome of which cannot be disputed after the fact, but which offers no inherent protection for the downtown. On the other hand, the OLG issued Request for Proposals (RFPs) to casino operators as of April 25 2014, presumably with the information that Kingston City Council has excluded the downtown as a potential site for a casino. As well, this council, though divided on the casino, is strongly opposed to one downtown.
Some members of council believe that the next step is to amend Kingston’s Official Plan (OP) so that those areas in the city where a casino could legally go are clearly defined, and the downtown is excluded. The city solicitor has said, however, that the new council could reverse changes to the OP if they like. If that is true, then an official plan amendment may not help even as it introduces the term “casino gaming facility” into the OP for the first time. It will be important for voters to know how their electoral candidates feel about a casino, and whether or not one should be located in the downtown business district.
For the record, our current downtown representatives- Rob Hutchison in King’s Town, Jim Neill in Williamsville, and Bill Glover in Sydenham District- are staunch opponents of a casino anywhere in the city.
In the end, the referendum will be legally binding only if there is a 50% voter turnout and a 50%+1 response in favour or against.
Whether or not you oppose a casino, it’s important to understand the referendum question and for a really great (and neutral) FAQ page check out http://tommy.vallier.ca/2014/04/30/where-we-stand-a-faq-on-a-casino-in-kingston/