North Bay City Council voted 8-3 in favour of proceeding with a casino, at a packed special council meeting held last (Wednesday) night.
The vote was met with a loud chorus of boo’s and emotional outbursts from people, some yelling “shame on you” and “you just killed our city.”
Others left the council chambers angrily saying they are moving out of the city.
The recorded vote came after nearly two hours of impassioned pleas from presenters asking council to say “no” to a casino development in the city.
Council newcomers Marcus Tignanelli and Scott Robertson and veteran councillor Mark King voted against the casino proposal, asking that it be sent back to committee.
A motion of reconsideration put forward by Councillor Mark King, meaning it will be back before council at its next meeting, to be voted on but with no discussion.
“What it has done is, at the very least, it has given people the opportunity in the city to lobby particular councillors like Councillor Dave Mendicino. The mayor voted in favour of it along with some of the more seasoned councillors,” said King.
“This council has no idea what it just voted on. The report is from an employee that doesn’t work here anymore (CAO Keith Robicheau). There was no information provided in the report. As a matter of fact, if you look at the report, it doesn’t even indicate which property this whole process actually deals with, other than the fact there was a piece of property zoned well over a year ago for a casino.”
Following the meeting, things heated up between King and Mendicino, with Mendicino calling King a “piece of work.”
“I stand by it,” said Mendicino.
“He (King) is putting the community through a process that’s no longer required. If you lose a vote 6-5 you can make a notice of reconsideration because you might sway one, but to lose 8-3 it’s just about political grandstanding. I just verbalized what the rest of the council is feeling.”
King defended his motion.
“This was an important event that took place tonight, and I fully understand where his priorities lie, (Mendicino) they lie with the developer, they don’t lie with the people of the City of North Bay.”
Mayor Al McDonald who voted in favour of the casino proceeding, says the matter has been on the books for over six years.
“There’s a lot of information out there, there’s the information I needed to make a decision I am comfortable with. The range of jobs I’ve heard is anywhere from 180 to 250. I don’t know where it is going to end up at. There’s tax revenue from the building. The one time jobs for construction are there. I recommend that the money that comes back to the community does not go in the operating budget, that a portion of it goes to different sectors in our community,” said McDonald.
The mayor said whether or not people attend a casino is a personal choice.
“I’m not a gambler, I probably won’t go to the casino. I work too hard for my money, but at the end of the day it is the choice of citizens to decide where they want to spend their disposable money.”
Nineteen people signed up to present, but there were a few no-shows.
With supporters in the audience waving cards with the words “No Casino” printed on them, some presenters spoke of the negative social and economic impact a casino would have on the community, citing examples from other centres.
One spoke to how 54 charities and non-profits had much to lose if the casino was approved.
As a father and grandfather, one man read a letter on behalf of his daughter who is now raising her children as a single parent because her common-law husband had developed a gambling problem resulting in a massive debt, that eventually tore the family apart.
On her way out of the meeting following the vote, presenter Tracey Restoule verbally lashed out at council saying it should be ashamed of its decision.
“They were elected to represent what North Bay wants. And all I saw in their eyes were dollar signs. You can’t have any economic development in any town without some social responsibility. You have to be responsible for those segments of society that can’t look after themselves,” said Restoule.
“And if city council is going to represent North Bay, they have to represent everyone, not just those people that can benefit economically from something like this. It absolutely broke my heart. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.”
Restoule feels she has a responsibility to speak out, to try and convince council to change its vote.
“We have one of the highest rates in the province of people who are on disability for addictions, whether it is alcohol, drugs, gambling and because there is such a large population of people like that in North Bay they have to be represented, someone has to speak for them. As well as the Indigenous people in and around this area. We are the most vulnerable, so I also speak from an indigenous perspective.”
Restoule promises to be back at the next meeting of council.
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