Thursday, October 2, 2014

Casino question dropped from ballot

A question to the public as to whether they’re in favour of Fort Frances being considered as a possible site for a casino has been taken off the ballot for the upcoming municipal election.
Council voted 4-2 in favour of doing so during a special meeting yesterday after receiving advice from town solicitor Wes Derksen that casinos don’t appear to be within the town’s jurisdiction.

Derksen told council he had reviewed the Municipal Elections Act and determined that the council of a municipality may pose a question to the electorate during an election, but not on matters that are not within its jurisdiction.
“Casinos are regulated by the province and other levels of government, so from a legal point of view it’s a cautionary flag,” Derksen remarked.
“Do you even have the ability to ask the electorate the question?”
Furthermore, the Act outlines matters of provincial interest with respect to which a municipality cannot ask a question—and specifically mentions casinos—although a separate subsection indicates municipalities may ask a question regarding casinos and charity casinos as is allowed under certain regulations.
But Derksen said he was not able to find any such regulation that would permit asking the question as to whether the electorate wants a casino or not.
Couns. Ken Perry and Paul Ryan voted against removing the question from the ballot and rescinding the relevant bylaw.
“We’re not asking to build a casino. We’re asking the people if they would be in favour of building a casino if the opportunity ever arose,” Coun. Perry said to Derksen.
“So if we’re told six months from now that the opportunity is there, and we don’t do this, we may have to go all the way back through the process again,” he warned.
Coun. Perry noted that in 1998, council asked the electorate to vote on a casino and the majority said “no.”
Six months ago, during talks with the government, the province brought this vote up and told council to hold another one to see if people still felt the same.
That was why council agreed to put the question on the ballot earlier this spring.
Coun. Ryan said council first put the question on the ballot back in the spring for a reason—and he doesn’t see how the reason is invalid today.
“I think the electorate wants to decide on this matter,” he noted.
“I’m very confident it will be ‘yes’ due to our economic situation.”
“I don’t see anything negative coming out of this,” echoed Coun. Perry, noting out of a 100 people he’s talked to about it, 90 percent were in favour of a casino.
On the other hand, Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft said the stakes are too high.
He felt if the matter was voted on, and the outcome was negative, it could hinder the development of any new casino in the area, such as one on potential First Nations’ land within the municipal boundary.
“That is my big fear,” Coun. Wiedenhoeft remarked. “That’s why I think we’re taking a big chance by putting this thing to vote.”
Derksen said he felt the spirit of the Municipal Elections Act is “you should stick to things that are within your jurisdiction.”
“Some people may say that getting the advice of the electorate on things that are not within jurisdiction is interesting, but if there are downsides,” he noted.
π“You have to weigh that carefully.
“If, in fact, it is the case that people vote ‘yes,’ but yet council decides they don’t want to chance a vote, what is the difference?” Derksen asked.
“The only thing you can do by putting a question on the ballot that may be questionable, and getting a negative response potentially, is to damage yourself.
“If everybody here says, ‘We know people want a casino,’ then what is the benefit of putting it on the ballot?” he reiterated.
Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig said the current council has made it clear in the past it is in favour of a casino here, and withdrawing the question does not mean council or administration is against exploring the feasibility of a casino down the road.
Mayor Roy Avis said after the special meeting that, after hearing the recommendation from Derksen, he felt council made the right decision in removing the question from the ballot.
He noted if Fort Frances ever was considered for a casino, or a local First Nations wanted to build one within the town’s boundaries, the town will follow “due process.”
He added such decisions will be left open to the incoming council.
The question that was to appear on the ballot read as follows:
“Are you in favour of council for the Corporation of the Town of Fort Frances advising the Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) Corporation that Fort Frances may be considered by them as a site for the location of a new gaming facility (casino), the location of which within the boundaries of Fort Frances is to be determined?”
If the more than half of the electorate voted “yes,” this would not have meant the town was going into the business of building a casino here.
Rather, it would indicate to the OLG that the town and its residents are open to being considered as a site.
On a “yes” vote, council would have passed a resolution giving the OLG permission to consider Fort Frances as a site for a new gaming facility (casino).
On a “no” vote, the town could do nothing within its jurisdiction to implement the matter for a period of four years following voting day.

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