CNW Group/OLG Winners.
For a few hours before the Mayor Rob Ford crack video revelations broke last Thursday, the firing of Paul Godfrey, Ontario's gambling czar and pusher of a Toronto casino, was the hot topic of conversation.
The former OLG chair held a press conference at the Royal York to offer his side of the story on his ousting only hours after the mayor had called reporters to his City Hall office to announce a Toronto casino was "dead," and that he would be canceling a special council meeting scheduled for today to debate the issue.
That meeting is going ahead as planned this morning anyway after a majority of councillors backed Councillor Mike Layton's request to hold the meeting to officially put a fork once and for all in casino plans.
Godfrey expressed surprise on his ouster, but to anyone watching the unraveling of the OLG's privatization plans for gaming in Ontario - and the signals coming from Queen's Park - Godfrey's ouster was only a matter of time. Here are five reasons why:
1. The Liberals couldn't afford the stink of more scandal. And the behind-the-scenes lobbying on the casino file was out of hand. Everybody and his uncle, including a few of Godfrey's buds from the bad ole Mel Lastman days, were looking for a piece of the actions. A lot of palms were getting greased on this one.
Perhaps if Godfrey had been more tactful - he had gauged new premier Kathleen Wynne's obvious discomfort - things could have turned out differently. But Godfrey is not known for his subtlety. Instead of taking on the task of turning OLG around into a delicate operation, he tried to remake the Crown corporation in his own image - first, by stacking the board with his friends. And then using his political connections to try and ram a casino down Toronto's throat.
When that wasn't working, he used threats. And then there was the sweetheart deal for T.O. for which Wynne called him onto the carpet.
Godfrey's antics may have not mattered much to Wynne's predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, an Ottawa boy a little out of touch with Toronto's political sensibilities. But the current premier happens to represent a Toronto riding, which only made her reluctance about a casino sucking the life out of the waterfront all the more pronounced.
2. Fact is not even the PCs, with whom Godfrey is politically aligned, like OLG's plans. PC leader Tim Hudak had some strong words on Godfrey's dismissal, suggesting his removal, and the resignation en masse of OLG's board soon after, proves the whole operation has gone off the rails. But Tim's not fooling anyone.
In fact, his party supported an NDP motion (egads!) calling for a halt to OLG's privatization plans. If that wasn't enough, former PC leadership contender Frank Klees, moved a motion at the justice policy committee, supported by Liberals it turns out, calling on the Auditor-General to investigate OLG's plans, including issues of transparency in the bidding process. It was more than just lefties who smelled a rat on this one.
3. The province wasn't ever really interested in building more casinos, anyway. That was Godfrey's idea. The province's main reason for embarking on Godfrey's "modernization" was to get into the online gambling game. That's where the real big money is. And if the quid pro quo for that from the industry was building a few casinos in return, then so be it.
It's in online gambling, currently illegal in Ontario, where all the big gaming players are betting their economic future. Casinos are losing money. Besides, that OLG's plans would kill horse racing - and with it rural votes Libs are desperate to reclaim - only added urgency for Wynne's government.
On that front the Wynne Libs have been mending fences since she was sworn in, signing transition funding agreements with racetracks cut out of Godfrey's modernization plans.
4. Wynne needed to make a highly symbolic example of Godfrey. Maybe Godfrey could have saved himself. But in sacrificing Godfrey, Wynne also sent a message to Ford and Toronto city council that, unlike her predecessor, she wouldn't be pushed around.
Indeed, in the hours before Godfrey's dismissal, at Ford's presser to declare a Toronto casino "dead," the mayor complained that almost daily efforts to get the Libs to divulge the details of the OLG's new hosting formula (the aforementioned sweetheart deal Godfrey wanted for the city) had gone unanswered. It was the reported $100 million from that new formula that Ford was banking on to sell a casino to council.
5. Godfrey's appointment as OLG chair by the McGuinty Libs had always been to provide political cover. At the time, the OLG was weighed down by scandal - execs at the trough and weirdness with a few winning tickets. Godfrey says he knew he was done when he saw a story in the Globe quoting unnamed sources expressing the government's concerns about his casino plans.
But ultimately, public opinion was not on Godfrey's side. Some of his friends in big biz, including real estate giant RioCan CEO Edward Sonshine, came out forcefully against a casino, even despite the fact Godfrey is chair of that board. Godfrey's personal bungling didn't help matters. His comment that he wouldn't want a casino in his own backyard wasn't the smartest thing he's ever said.
Arguably the die was cast at the Liberal leadership convention, when the presence of a few casino-boosting lobbyists did not go unnoticed - quite a few of them, in fact, tight with the McGuinty-ites that used to run the show at Queen's Park. Wynne has been eager to jettison the stink of that regime from day one.