The Surrey casino: a story that just keeps on giving.
Just to try to keep on top of the developments, here’s the chronology.
After two long nights of public hearings, Surrey council votes at 2 a.m. Saturday on whether to approve a casino licence. Tweeting reporters send out news of the votes one by one. It’s 4-4 when Mayor Dianne Watts steps up and casts the deciding vote — against.
Energy Minister Rich Coleman lashes out the next day, saying he’s lost confidence in Surrey council and its decision-making process.
B.C. Lottery Corporation CEO Michael Graydon, in an interview with me, says that he was disappointed to learn that Mayor Watts had concerns for months, as she never expressed those in any conversation with the corporation. He also says that something transpired in the last few days that he couldn’t understand, but it was a complete change of direction from everything the corporation had been hearing from council for months.
Thursday, the mayor issued an open letter criticizing Graydon and Rich Coleman, who was getting his own bad press about having made calls to councillors during the process pressuring them to approve the casino, issued a much kinder, gentler statement about the Surrey decision. Both are attached below.
Open Letter to BCLC
re: South Surrey Entertainment Complex
I feel compelled to address the inflammatory public comments that have been made by BCLC CEO Michael Graydon.
The statement that “something transpired in the last few days and I don’t know what,” implies that I acted irresponsibly. The only thing that transpired was public consultation. Mr. Graydon’s comments show a complete disregard for the public process.
To state that he is “disappointed” in my actions and “if she truthfully had issues,” is crossing a line that a regulator should not cross. I did not have any issues with Gateway or the proponent. I was concerned with the public opposition, which no one can “fix”.
The facts are as follows:
1. A rezoning application came forward and I did not support 1st and 2nd reading.
2. On January 25, 2010, a public hearing occurred related to the site and the rezoning by-law in question, and the architect stated the development will be a 200 room hotel, including a restaurant. Council and the public were told:
“if the casino component does not receive a license then the convention centre would be expanded to support trade show and other such uses.” Richard Holvert, Architect; Regular Council – Public Hearing Minutes. January 25, 2010.
I supported 3rd reading of the rezoning bylaw because there was little public concern raised at that public hearing, and I knew that before a casino use could be included on the site a separate Council approval process would be required, including a separate public hearing.
3. The developer, prior to the 2010 public hearing, stated:
“But, failing to get approval for a casino from B.C. Lottery Corporation won’t be a deal-breaker… the hotel and convention centre would still proceed.” Vancouver Province, October 4, 2009.
4. The Newton bingo facility has been located in Newton for several decades, and there was considerable public support in October 2009 when the slot machines were approved. In fact, 4,273 people were in favour and only 84 opposed the project. More than 17 community organizations spoke in support, including non-profit organizations, sporting and arts groups, businesses, and social service agencies.
I, along with Council, worked with the proponent to define a project that would have the best chance for success, and serve the residents of Surrey, as we moved forward to the public consultation component of the process. Our input was intended to assist the developer, but was not approval for the project because we are committed to public consultation prior to making decisions.
If, in fact, the CEO of BCLC expected this to be fully supported, then why bother going through with the public consultation process and a public hearing that continued for 13 hours? We must ensure that we have an open and transparent process where the Mayor and Councillors can make decisions and be supported, whichever side of the issue they are on.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts
And the minister:
Surrey gaming decision proves process works – Statement – January 24, 2013
VICTORIA – Minister Responsible for Gaming Rich Coleman has issued the following statement with regard to the recent Surrey gaming decision:
“I want to express my appreciation for the time and thoughtfulness Surrey City Council and the community as a whole took to examine the merits of the entertainment and gaming complex proposal and to be clear that I respect the final decision.
“Surrey Council exercised its responsibility on behalf of residents by conducting a thorough, open process that led to an independent decision. I can tell you from experience that these types of decisions are complicated and are not reached easily.
“We have never put a casino in any community that has not wanted one. That will continue to be the provincial government’s policy.
“I am always open to discuss projects and answer questions for issues falling under my ministry, which is what I did in this case. That will not change.
“I respect Surrey Council’s decision and want to personally thank them for taking the time to consider the opportunity.”