CUPE 79's Tim Maguire addresses the Board of Health on Monday, February 11th.
When you're not sure you can win, ask for more study.
It's a tried-and-true advocacy tactic, deployed by everyone from corporate lobbyists to grassroots activists. Sometimes, it's a transparent effort to delay the inevitable. Other times, it's about collecting additional information that will legitimately tilt the balance of future arguments. And every so often, it's a kind of diplomacy: not wanting to be written off or pigeonholed for taking a specific position, you instead talk about the careful weighing of available (and potential) evidence.
That was CUPE Local 79's strategy when its president, Tim Maguire, spoke to the Board of Health on Monday about the impacts of a Toronto casino. The head of the union representing Toronto's "inside" workers gave the overwhelming impression that he and his membership are opposed to any new casino - but he refused to say it outright.
What was odd about this dance was the lack of any overt reason for engaging in it. The Board of Health is solidly anti-casino; it consists of councillors Raymond Cho, Sarah Doucette, John Filion, Joe Mihevc, Gord Perks and Kristyn Wong-Tam, as well as six like-minded citizen appointees. (Mihevc was elected board chair earlier in the same meeting, replacing Filion, who had served in that role since 2004 when he succeeded Mihevc.)
Maguire explained that, based on the findings of two reports prepared by the city's medical officer of health, a casino would increase the burden on the services staffed by his members. "Adding to the number of people who need supports further compromises our already stretched social service infrastructure, hurt again by the flatlined budget of 2013," he said.
"Although there has been much discussion about the supposed financial benefits of a casino in Toronto, there is no consensus on whether it has a net benefit, and for whom. Likewise, the discussion around new revenues into city coffers doesn't at this point give us any idea about how they will be matched against the costs to services and to our community." His members, he continued, are "concerned" - not just as employees of the city but as residents of it as well. He called for "careful evaluation and deep community consultation about the potential impacts of a casino."
"I just want to make sure I understand," asked Councillor Perks. "You're here on behalf of CUPE 79, encouraging the city of Toronto not to build a casino, is that correct?
"We're here encouraging the city of Toronto to be very careful and [to observe] that the economic benefits aren't settled yet," said Maguire.
Perks - not usually one to accept an indirect answer - chose not to press the question. He knew what was going on.
In the past several months, a number of unions have come out in favour of a Toronto casino - some cautiously, some enthusiastically. UNITE HERE Local 75, Service Employees International Union Local 2, the Canadian Auto Workers and the Carpenters' Union all hold out hope that the construction or operation of such a venture would result in a good many organized jobs.
This left-wing push for a casino creates an interesting dynamic, at City Hall and elsewhere. The Globe covered the curious situation back in October:
"It's really about jobs," said John Cartwright, the president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, an umbrella group that speaks for 120 different union locals.
He is not aware of any unions that have come out against a casino.
The next day, however, the paper printed a clarification:
The Toronto and York Region Labour Council has not taken a formal position for or against a new casino in Toronto. Although no affiliates have officially come out against a casino, some have expressed concerns about its social impacts.
(In an email, the Labour Council confirms to NOW that it remains in neutral territory.)
At the Board of Health meeting, Mihevc inquired about the intra-labour muddle, in an oblique and meandering sort of way. "I can imagine, actually, CUPE 79 - given that you do so much front-line work with especially our vulnerable communities - potentially gaining some employment, gaining some union members as a result of a casino, because there will be an increased social impact that will be out there, and there might even be some revenue," Mihevc said. Given that CUPE would be faced with "a particular possible benefit but a broader negative impact," he asked, "what values will be key to you in considering your final position: the broader? Or the more narrow?"
Without hesitation, Maguire responded, "The broader. I can tell you that we're not here just for Local 79. We're here for the potential impact on communities through this decision...Yes, we look after the interests of our members, but we're also inherently concerned about what happens in communities around the city."
It was a rebuke of myopic thinking. By closing the psychic space between the workers who would benefit from a casino and the citizens who would lose out, Mihevc and Maguire reduced the situation to its underlying moral dilemma. Even for organized labour, the question has to be: at what price, capitalism?
Despite (or because of) its reluctance to take a hard position, CUPE 79 was able to make this point with surprising clarity.
Shortly after, in his speech to the board, Perks put it another way. "[We] should be willing to stand up and say, 'It matters how we raise money in Toronto.' We should be raising the funds that pay for the important services we deliver in a fair way. In a way that is itself just."
In the end, the board reaffirmed its opposition to a casino, and asked the city manager to consult with front-line workers. All of the votes were unanimous.