Faced with growing odds against a win at city council, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is vowing to take the fight for a downtown casino to the polls next year – a pledge that would test the timeline laid out by the province and the patience of some of his council allies.
The mayor's executive committee met Monday, the first day of a two-day special session to consider a report by the city manager on casinos released last week.
More than 200 people signed up to speak, but with several no-shows and an agreement to sit later, all who showed up got three minutes to make their case over the course of 10 hours.
Mr. Ford asked no questions and said little during the meeting beyond a statement sending condolences to victims of the explosions in Boston and offering help if needed.
But Mr. Ford still managed to create a stir, showing up at a union-organized pro-casino rally before the meeting and crashing head-on into a television camera at lunchtime as he raced by reporters.
"It's either no or yes. If it's a yes, thank you very much, appreciate your support for creating 10,000 good-paying jobs. And if it's a no, then I guess that becomes an election issue," Mr. Ford said at the morning rally.
It is not clear whether Mr. Ford could turn back the clock on the casino question and make it a ballot issue in the next election if council rejects proposals this spring.
Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. chairman Paul Godfrey has said he favours a casino on Toronto's waterfront, but the provincial agency also has said it needs an answer one way or the other from the city this spring. If Toronto rejects a casino downtown, other communities such as Vaughan and Markham could step in and say yes, Mr. Godfrey told The Globe this year.
OLG's plans for expanding gambling are expected to add an additional $1-billion to provincial coffers and are a part of Ontario's fiscal plan to reduce the deficit. A delay in a decision on the Toronto site – the largest in the province – would have a major impact on the ability of the OLG to implement its plans.
There also were signs Monday that after a year of debate, several members of the mayor's own executive don't have an appetite for prolonging the casino issue.
"By the time an election comes around this item is finished," said Councillor David Shiner, who describes himself as undecided.
"I think the residents of the City of Toronto want us to have a full debate, make a decision and move on," said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, the only member of the mayor's executive who is opposed to a casino on moral grounds.
Mayor Ford argues Toronto needs the added convention space a new casino would bring. Asked Monday whether the city could get more convention space without a casino, he asked, "Who's going to pay for it?"
Speakers at the meeting included real-estate and casino executives, union leaders, researchers and citizens. One man came dressed in a tuxedo, several speakers wore buttons for or against a casino, and in one moment of levity a 90-year-old woman threatened to haunt councillors from the grave if they approved a new gambling facility.
"I want to see a casino approved," Mr. Ford said after the meeting. "I'm looking forward to the debate tomorrow and at council."
With a report from Adrian Morrow