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Surrey Casino, Chapter 2: Mayor lashes out at B.C. Lottery Corporation, Coleman sends out more conciliatory message

January 25th, 2013 · 6 Comments

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.

Dianne Watts:

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.

Sincerely,

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.”

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  • Andrew Browne

    Speaking from experience it is always interesting to see how those who are not used to municipal decision-making interact with it – always entertaining. Though many people (here and elsewhere) love to complain, and there are exceptions, generally speaking the decisions by local Councils are VERY open and responsive to local concerns, which is quite different from provincial politics.

  • mezzanine

    IMO, though, surrey council’s decision put a lot of weight on south surrey-based opponents and neglected all the past work done on this project and potential benefits that would flow to the city as a whole.

    -if surrey did not want a casino at the south surrey site, they should not have zoned it to include a casino.

    -if the BCLC and the developer did a lot of consultation with council, one would assume council would have an idea of what would be acceptable to the city.

    -and really, at the end of the day the decision is up to the council. in 2004, council decided to approve gambling at hastings park despite opposition. I don’t think the neighbours protested less strongly (they took the case up to the supreme court, but they declined to hear it), but the city decided other factors were more important (eg, the viability of the track) . In this case, it seems surrey selected the site carefully (the council even eliminated zoning for a casino in the city centre by skytrain b/c they though it would be a bad fit), telegraphed to everyone that a casino would be a possibility but in the end Dianne Watts, cast a deciding vote against despite all of (her) work with BCLC and the developers.

    Paull Hilsdon has a summary of the from Councillor Rasode (who voted yes) at his site.

    http://www.civicsurrey.com/2013/01/25/councillor-rasode-on-why-she-and-three-others-supported-the-casino/

    Would they ever approve a casino at this site? would council move to remove casino zoning?

  • mezzanine

    nb that 2004 decision was the CoV council.

  • Raingurl

    Why would they need another casino in Surrey anyway? How boring to have a whole city made up of (ugly) monster houses, (ugly) malls and a bunch of casinos.

  • Bill Lee

    And even more conciliatory days later….

    Rich Coleman defends his comments in the Surrey casino decision
    VANCOUVER/CKNW (AM980)
    Shane Woodford | Email news tips to shane.woodford@corusent.com 1/31/2013

    The Deputy Premier is also finally talking after his scathing criticism of Surrey city council and then abrupt turn around over the South Surrey casino decision.

    Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts blasted Rich Coleman in an open letter for his comments.

    While fellow Liberal MLA Gordon Hogg said Coleman calling Surrey councillors during the casino process was inappropriate.

    Coleman was asked if he has talked to either party since.

    “I have talked to Gordie and explained that I answered questions and he accepted that and he sort of apologized for his comments to me personally with regards to Dianne no I have not that is not my role.”

    Question “Do you regret what you did?”

    “I did my job as a Minister and I have no regrets.”

    Coleman was asked if he got a talking to, after first blasting Surrey council, then in a statement pulling an abrupt u-turn.

    “All of that was my doing I think that you know the challege was for a couple of our folks who were up until two o’clock in the morning and worked months and months on it they may have said somethings out of frustration and I wanted to make sure that people understood that we weren’t going to live with that frustration.”

    Coleman says it was appropriate for him to call the councillors as he knew them and they had questions for him.

    “This was only a conversation about moving of a license from one area of Surrey to another you should recognize that the zoning was dione by Surrey three or four years ago and Surrey are the ones that said to the Lottery Corporation that is the only place we will accept a casino in our community and that is where we would like you to go to work and then we went through the process and they turned it down, I accept the turn down.”

    Requests to confirm the apology were put in to MLA Gordon Hogg who did not return CKNW’s calls.

  • J. Riley

    I can see why the developer and BCLC are upset at the rejection of their proposals. They’ve spent a lot of time and money pursuing them and the city’s reasons for rejection seem wanting.

    Sure, there was opposition to the casino operation. Opponents are usually the noisiest ‘stakeholders’ when changes are proposed. But in this case their objections were weak on the facts, long on emotion. If council truly wanted to know how we in South Surrey felt they could have polled us all.

    Based on the Council meeting minutes, Mayor Watts main objection to the casino seemed to hinge on her reluctance to move gaming slots from Newton to South Surrey. Did they have to be moved? And, according another councilor, it would have been a good thing anyway since the Newton was deemed a poor fit for a casino operation and not in accord with city gaming policy.

    An excellent opportunity has been missed.