Mayor Gregor Robertson stood across the water from B.C. Place today (October 19) and announced that a Vision Vancouver council would be committed to a moratorium on expanded gambling in the city for the next three years.
Robertson, who is seeking reelection to another three-year term as mayor, said that a Vision Vancouver council would not consider any proposals for a new “mega casino”.
“We are committed to a comprehensive moratorium on expanded gambling in Vancouver. We are firmly against the idea of a major casino in our downtown that is a destination casino. And we will be running on that in this campaign,” he told reporters.
In April, city council unanimously voted to reject a proposal to expand the Edgewater Casino on a site next to B.C. Place. The plan for the casino complex included two hotels, restaurants, and up to 1,500 slot machines.
Council’s decision followed a flood of opposition from citizens and community groups who expressed concern about gambling addiction, crime, and the project’s potential impact on the surrounding neighbourhood.
Robertson said today’s commitment from Vision Vancouver builds on city council’s earlier decision to impose a moratorium on expanded gambling.
“This is going farther than what we said that we would do back in April,” he said. “Today we are saying that there will be no reviews or studies on expanded gambling. That is off the table. The Vision Vancouver team listened to the voices of citizens and community groups and heard overwhelming public opposition to expanded gambling.”
Robertson was flanked by Vision Vancouver candidates as he delivered his civic party’s first major announcement in the November 19 civic election campaign.
He said Vision Vancouver’s position on expanded gambling differs sharply from that of his mayoral rival Suzanne Anton and her Non-Partisan Association team.
“What I’m saying is that a Vision Vancouver government, if we’re elected a majority again, will not consider the expansion of gambling in Vancouver and we will not allow a mega casino in our downtown,” he said.
“That’s a very clear statement for these next three years in stark contrast to the enthusiastic support of Suzanne Anton for a mega casino and a lot of chaos and confusion among the council candidates about who’s for or who’s against. It’s really not clear what the rest of the NPA candidates think about this. It’s very clear that Ms. Anton is for a mega casino and we’re not going there.”
A request for comment from councillor Anton was not immediately returned. According to a news report today, Anton has accused Robertson of switching positions on the casino issue.
"The vote in April, which was unanimous at council and respected the public view at the time, was that an expansion of gambling could come back under certain conditions," she is quoted as saying by the CBC.
"Gregor is saying [Wednesday] he's not interested in what he voted on in April and he's saying under no conditions."
Robertson expressed little concern about the potential loss in city revenue from a moratorium on expanded gambling.
“I think Vancouver’s economy is growing. It is dynamic. It relies on many other industries more heavily than gambling. Gambling is a very small proportion,” he said.
The mayor said the focus should be on high-growth sectors like clean technology, digital media, and film and TV as well as big industries like tourism, forestry, mining, and construction.
“Vancouver is renowned worldwide for an economy that’s all about innovation, creativity, diversity, and sustainability. And gambling does not fit into that compelling future.”
Speaking with reporters today, Robertson was asked about Vision Vancouver’s position on affordable housing and homelessness in this election campaign.
“Affordable housing continues to be the top priority for Vision Vancouver,” he said. “Going into this next election we’ll obviously continue our commitment to ending street homelessness by 2015. There are no surprises there. We want to see a lot more effort leveraging the city’s tools on affordable housing and low- and middle-income housing across the whole city.”
Robertson said he believes the city will reach the goal of ending street homelessness by 2015.
“We’re ahead of schedule in terms of achieving that goal. We’ve seen an 82-percent drop in street homelessness in three years, so we’ve got 18 percent to go, 145 people that were still outside as of last spring. And we want to focus on finishing that goal off over these next three years.”
Robertson was also asked why Vision Vancouver waited until the last month of the election campaign to make a major announcement.
“We have been busy running the city,” he said. “We are the majority on council and our duties are significant in wrapping up this term of office. And we will be rolling out our priorities over these coming days.”
“We have a month to go and that’s pretty typical in all levels of government and politics that the final month is when the campaign really gears up and when parties put forward their platforms and commitments.”
Asked about the ongoing Occupy Vancouver protest, Robertson said the costs to the city so far have been “modest”.
“It’s not a large protest and it’s just a matter of monitoring and ensuring that things remain peaceful and clean and that protesters are taking care of that site. Right now things are going smoothly and there’s not a lot of cost accruing to the city.”
“There were costs obviously associated with the big protest last weekend, a lot of police that were involved, making sure that things didn’t go sideways.”
But he added: “I don’t have the numbers on the total cost from last Saturday.”
Mayor Gregor Robertson speaks to reporters.