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Wynne plays casino referendum close to vest

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

Ontario Liberal leadership candidate Kathleen Wynne said she’s all in when it comes to municipalities holding referendums to host a gaming facility, but the Liberal MPP will wait until she becomes premier to decide if the government should stop the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s modernization process to allow cities to hold any votes.

“Municipalities can hold referendums,” said Wynne, answering questions from reporters during a Jan. 3 conference call.  “I will wait until I get there (become the Liberal leader).”

NDP leader Andrea Horwath has already called on the province to stop the OLG modernization process to allow municipalities, including Hamilton, to hold a referendum during the November 2014 municipal election. It is expected to cost municipalities millions of dollars if they hold a referendum prior to the municipal election.  The OLG is determining where to locate new gaming facilities in 29 zones throughout the province. A gaming facility is expected to be located in the Hamilton/Burlington zone.

The OLG has given Hamilton until March 1 to decide if it wants to be a host for a gaming facility in the downtown area. The city has scheduled two public meetings, Jan. 16 and 17, each with a multi-persons panel, to discuss the issue. Hamilton politicians had already asked the OLG representatives to hold off on their request for proposal process for the city until the municipal election. OLG representatives refused. The city has endorsed Flamboro Downs as its preferred location for a gaming facility.

Wynne was presenting a series of ideas that would increase municipal autonomy for new OLG gaming facilities, green energy programs, developing regional transportation strategy, and investing in municipal infrastructure.

“Whether it’s casinos or energy infrastructure, we need to ensure we have willing hosts,” she said.

As for allowing municipalities to decide if they want a green energy project, such as turbines, within their borders, she told reporters that her government introduced new alternative energy projects “we will make sure communities, and AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) have input.

“We need a premier to reach out, bring people together,” she added.

Wynn also addressed the provincial government’s social services cuts that have had a dramatic impact onHamilton’s homelessness programs. The Liberals last year slashed the Community Start-Up program which has forced the city to cover a $7.6 million deficit. Before Christmas, John Milloy, Minister of Community and Social Services announced a one-year transition fund of $42 million to municipalities, including $3.19 million to Hamilton. Wynen supported the announcement, but acknowledged it didn’t cover the entire deficit.

She wants her government to implement the Francis Lankin-led report on social services released last year that identified 108 recommendations to fix social services.

“We need to figure out the pieces,” said Wynne. “It’s not clear to me.”

She said some municipalities are using provincial social service money to freeze their local taxes, a strategy she wants to examine.Hamiltonis looking at a zero per cent tax increase this year after passing record low tax hikes the past two years. Wynne pointed out Hamilton this year will receive $71 million in uploaded savings from services the province will be taking over.

Wynne took questions about various issues for about an hour, including a possible reivew of The Beer Store operations.

“It is not functioning as it was once envisioned,” she said. “It needs to be looked at.”

The Beer Store conceived in 1927, as the Brewers’ Retail, is now operated by three foreign multi-nationals, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Molson Coors, and Sapporo.

Wynne said, though, she was supportive of the Liberal plan to introduce wine boutiques as stand alone LCBO outlets within grocery stores.

Wynne is one of seven Liberal MPPs seeking to replace Dalton McGuinty in the Liberal leadership contest scheduled for Jan. 25-27 in Toronto. Wynne, Sandra Pupatello, and Gerard Kennedy, the front-runners, have locked up 90 per cent of the caucus endorsements. Also seeking the leadership is Eric Hoskins, Charles Sousa, Glen Murray, and Harinder Takhar.

“Nobody can predict what will happen,” said Wynne. “A lot will happen on the convention floor. I have a shot at it.”

 

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