November 19, 2012

A casino for Toronto a good gamble?

Over the next weeks and months citizens of Toronto will decide on whether or not the city accepts a new casino within its boundaries.

As president of Carpenters Local 27, an organization that has been active for 130 years in Toronto, I believe it’s both relevant and proper that we contribute our voice and experience to this debate.

At a recent meeting of the membership, Carpenters Local 27 has taken a positive motion of support for the development of an “integrated resort casino” in Toronto, and by the way, so has Drywall 675 and together we have over 12,000 members in the Greater Toronto Area, about half living in Toronto.

Industry Perspectives

Mike Yorke

We believe that the OLG proposal for an “integrated resort” style casino complex offers an extraordinary opportunity for the city to secure thousands of quality jobs.

The recent report by Ernst and Young, which recently went before the city’s executive committee, notes the potential for up to “8,500 construction jobs for three years, depending on location and type of development”, along with the potential for between 4,400 to 7,300 net new jobs if an integrated entertainment complex is built, and a construction expenditure of over $2 billion. We know that when our members are working the whole city benefits, but this is good news for not only Toronto’s construction industry, but the tourism, and convention sectors as well.

This could be a real financial gain to the city, in the best case scenario — a location at the CNE, it could net the city $200 million a year in hosting fees, property taxes etc. And, if the city plays this right, through negotiations of positive conditions, we have the opportunity to be a global showcase of: green jobs, opportunities for youth apprenticeships using the “Hammerheads” and “CHOICE” programs, involving returning military through “Helmets to Hardhats” and demonstrating that unions, developers, employers and the city can collaborate on a project of success.

Toronto has world level exhibit contractors manufacturing displays that travel the globe; these are high quality jobs that this development will grow. In fact, the OLG estimates that our local convention visitors’ numbers will expand from 360,000 to over 900,000 visitors per year.

Many individuals have noted the social impacts of gaming and casinos, and these are real, however, so is the social impact of unemployment and the uncertainty that causes in families. In a city that has an unemployment rate of over eight per cent and has seen major layoffs including the recently announced closure of Christie’s Bakery with the loss of 550 jobs, we need positive plans for employment— and this proposal offers that.

This proposal meshes nicely with other exciting city building developments such as: Waterfront Toronto’s work and the King Street redevelopment proposed by David Mirvish and Frank Gehry. The Oxford ideas for the casino redevelopment of the MTCC designed by Sir Norman Foster really raise the bar for our city and have received many accolades, along with some critique on the casino component.

It allows us to expand our vision about what the city can become. Many other international destinations have embraced and taken on the challenge, showcasing a robust downtown location for a resort, such as Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, or Barcelona, Spain. This opportunity challenges us to think big, dream big and develop a site that is for everyone.

This type of facility can be an investment catalyst, for example, in Sydney; a well-known Canadian firm-Brookfield Multiplex, is now redeveloping a convention centre adjacent to a casino at a $1 billion expenditure to the Australian economy.

Our support is strong for this initiative due to its many positive impacts, it’s a project deserving of serious consideration by all residents over the coming months.

Mike Yorke is President of Carpenters Local 27 in Ontario and a member of the Daily Commercial News Editorial Advisory Board. Please send comments or column ideas to editor@dailycommercialnews.com

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