Woolwich residents should make the call on a casinoMarch 16, 2013
(The following op-ed was featured in the Waterloo Region Record on March 16, 2013.)
An editorial featured in The Record this week entitled “No referendum on local casino” unfortunately failed to deliver an accurate portrayal of how casino development has been handled in the past and should be handled now.
Although it did acknowledge a number of concerns with the Liberal government’s casino expansion project – which has pit communities against each other in a race to raise new revenue – it incorrectly asserted that holding a referendum to approve a casino in Woolwich would set a precedent.
It’s important to note, however, that precedent was already set nearly 20 years ago when the City of Niagara Falls held the first local referendum on casino development.
After that vote, two more referendums were held in Oshawa and Sydenham Township in 1996, where residents rejected hosting gambling facilities in their community.
Then, in 1997, as part of the former PC government’s commitment to give a direct voice to the people on future casino decisions, several more communities held local referendums in tandem with municipal elections.
In a survey of 80 communities conducted by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, 26 local governments carried a gaming question on the ballot and only four received approval from the people.
So the editorial’s assertion that referendums are “not how we do democracy in this province” is wrong. When it comes to new casinos, this is precisely the way Ontario has done and should continue to do democracy.
To ensure this standard would be maintained in the future, the former PC government established a regulation in 2000, making local referendums mandatory before any more casino development could occur.
Then last May, the Liberal government sneaked some changes in through the backdoor by quietly revoking the referendum regulation and replacing it with nothing more than a rule that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation must consult with local communities.
This decision was obviously a calculated move for the Liberal government to accelerate its casino empire-building plans and to trick people into believing that referendums were no longer necessary. Unfortunately, this tactic has been quite successful and has even convinced some people that direct democracy in Ontario is something new.
The editorial also commits a logical fallacy, comparing apples and oranges, when it implies that allowing a referendum in Woolwich would open the floodgates to many more on everything from power plants to aggregates to landfills.
We all know gambling is not the same as energy, infrastructure or waste disposal.
First of all, a casino is a want, not a need for a community.
Roads to drive on, energy to power our homes and landfills to dispose of waste, on the other hand, are necessary for developing and sustaining communities.
The editorial conflates and confuses these issues by painting a picture of a bleak future driven by a mob of voters controlling all public policy matters while Ontario’s elected representatives sit on the sidelines.
This wouldn’t and hasn’t happen over the last two decades.
Democracy, at its core, is about giving the people a say in how a society is governed.
And while Canada, along with other Western countries have representative forms of government, we have never totally abandoned direct democracy, especially in Ontario when approving new casinos.
Sure, casinos can produce a number of economic benefits, but they can also create a whole host of problems, including: addiction to gambling, destroyed relationships and broken homes.
These concerns were front and centre when 62% of respondents to the Township’s recent survey rejected hosting a casino.
Clearly, inviting gambling into Woolwich is a decision that will fundamentally alter the social fabric of this community.
And it’s for this reason that referendums have been used across the province before casino contracts are put into place.
Then and now, the PC Party has acknowledged that the people must decide what they want their community to become.
So whether it’s for or against, residents in Woolwich, as well as those in municipalities across the province, should make the call.