Metrolinx is the provincial agency responsible for untangling the GTA's gridlock problem.
MGM is the U.S. casino giant that wants to build a gaming resort on Toronto's waterfront.
Robert Prichard is the link between the two. He's the chair of the Metrolinx board, and he's also a registered lobbyist for MGM.
As city council prepares to vote next month on a proposal for a downtown casino, Prichard's dual role is making some councillors uncomfortable.
"I respectfully suggest that wearing a Metrolinx hat and a casino lobbyist hat doesn't fit one's head very well," said Councillor Josh Matlow on Wednesday.
For many at City Hall, the casino and transit issues are inextricably linked. A downtown gaming complex is expected to dramatically increase car traffic, and new rail lines might have to be built to serve it at the expense of other transportation projects. Some critics argue that what's good for a casino would be bad for transit.
Matlow thinks that Prichard has done an excellent job as Metrolinx chair, and is careful to point out that in absence of any clear evidence, "it would be overreaching" to suggest he is in a conflict of interest.
"But I do think that it's important to separate these roles, and I would encourage him to consider that," he says.
Prichard is registered as a lobbyist at Queen's Park in his capacity as chair of the law firm Torys LLP, which MGM retained in July 2012, according to the Globe and Mail. He is not listed in the city's lobbyist registry, and says that he has no mandate to lobby councillors, who will decide on whether to allow a new casino in the city.
In an email to NOW, Prichard said that has not done any lobbying on the casino file but had registered "out of an abundance of caution,
" in anticipation that if council approves a casino, MGM would vie to operate it under the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. In that scenario, Torys might have contact with OLG in the firm's role as MGM's legal representation, and for transparancy's sake "it is important that any OLG officials know we are acting for MGM in any interactions," he said.
Those interactions would not necessarily fall under the statutory definition of "lobbying," but Prichard said it is the firm's policy that "when in doubt, register."
Prichard asserts that, to date, the Metrolinx board has not discussed casino-related transit issues. But if it does in future, he has pledged to recuse himself, on the advice of the provincial conflicts officer.
"I do not believe this position impairs my ability to do my job as Chair of Metrolinx," he said.
But a press conference held by MGM Wednesday morning could be indication of how sticky Prichard's situation could become if plans for a casino go ahead.
In its latest pitch to the city, the casino company unveiled a scale model of a 3-million square foot gaming resort to be housed at Exhibition Place, including plans for expanded TTC streetcar and GO Transit service. The TTC is currently partnering with Metrolinx to expand the city's transit network, and GO is a division of the Metrolinx.
Councillor Gord Perks dismissed Prichard's assurances that he can keep his two roles separate Wednesday, and called for reforms to the agency's governance structure.
"It's frankly a perversion of public accountability that we have a lobbyist chairing an important public agency," Perks said.
The councillor believes it's time that Metrolinx's board is reconstituted with elected officials, who he feels would be less prone to corporate influence. The board used to be made up of elected politicians from the region's municipal councils used to sit on the board, but they were replaced with private citizens in 2009.
"Metrolinx is a public agency, it spends public money, and makes planning decisions that affect the quality of life in the city of Toronto, and in the GTA broadly," said Perks. "People with that kind of authority need to be elected and accountable, and do their work in an above-the-board way."