Ottawa Council Dereliction of Duty
When I vote in an election, I am tasking the person I vote for with making the best informed decision that person can make. If I were to be put in the place of making those same decisions, I would insist on collecting all the relevant facts, weighing the issues and costs and benefits of different choices, and then I would make the best decision I could. I would reject making decisions without all the relevant facts at my disposal, particularly if those facts could be collected given more time. The more important the issue and the more far reaching the consequences of my decision, the more careful I would be to not rush into making a decision without all the relevant facts. Informed decision making is a duty of elected office.
Sadly, the Ottawa City Counsellors comprising the Finance and Economic Development Committee (FEDCO), and presumably the balance of Council next week, have abandoned this obligation to make decisions in an informed manner. Today, without a single study or public consultation in hand, they voted to restrict any casino expansion in Ottawa to the current location of the Rideau Carleton Raceway. I consider this nothing less than a dereliction of duty.
Is this the right choice for gambling in Ottawa? Perhaps, perhaps not. The point is that there was absolutely no reason whatsoever to pass this motion at this point in time. The Province and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation were not putting pressure on the City. There is no indication that if the City asked for more time to study the issue and collect not only the relevant facts but also actually canvass public opinion on the issue that the Province would have said no. The question wasn’t even asked.
Here are the facts that FEDCO and the residents of Ottawa did not have when FEDCO passed this motion today:
- Do residents of Ottawa want gambling expanded in the City and if yes, is there a preferred location? There has been no comprehensive community consultation on these points. Talking to constituents at church bazaars and glandhanding on street corners does not count as meaningful community consultation. Just ask the City of Ottawa “Consultation on Consultations” experts.
- What revenues can we expect from expanded gambling, and does the location of the casino impact the expected revenues?
- What costs can we expect from expanded gambling, and does the location of the casino impact the expected costs?
- What social costs are associated with expanding gambling in Ottawa, and does the location of the casino impact those social costs?
- Which casino location would be best poised to divert the traffic and revenue flow from the casino in Gatineau?
- What economic development and costs can be expected with expanding gambling in Ottawa, and does location of the casino impact those economic development and costs factors?
- What costs would be associated with cherry picking the RCR location over others? Might we have significantly reduced revenues? Might we lose our NHL team?
Now, as intelligent as many of our Ottawa City Counsellors appear, at times, to be, it is a stretch to assume that any of them are experts on these issues and should be trusted to instinctively know the answers. In fact, City Council itself knows that it is not expert in these issues, which is why Council directed staff to prepare reports on just these issues. These same reports have not, at the admission of FEDCO staff at the July FEDCO meeting, been prepared to date. Last week the Ottawa Board of Health reviewed a report on just one of these issues (the social cost of expanding gambling) and voted against expanding gambling in Ottawa at all.
So, why the hurry to make a decision on the location of the casino when so many relevant facts are missing from the discussion? The only obvious answer to that question is that we are a scant 4 months away from a municipal election year – a fact which must have many on Council worrying about having BIG policy decisions on the agenda when they would rather be discussing how wonderfully efficient Council has been this term and how well they have worked together. As a voter, I am appalled that this matter has been pursued in this way.
Even if you don’t care about the casino issue in particular (or you happen to agree that Council has reached the conclusion you would have wanted them to reach), we should all be concerned that on such a major issue and with no pressing reason to pass this motion, Council abandoned any pretext of informed decision making. Please Ottawa, remember this when the municipal election campaign begins and hold Ottawa City Counsel to account. I note that several Councillors have asked very intelligent questions and my own Councillor, Marianne Wilkinson, has consistently pursued this issue in a balanced and informed manner.