Monday, April 29, 2013



With no due respect, I wonder if the city lawyers are right when they say that a casino can be built at Exhibition Place and its tangled history has been cleared by city legislation.
The reason I wonder is at least one muncipal law expert wonders what would happen if some citizen or councillor took the issue to court. Admittedly, back in 1879 when it all began, casinos were more of the Wild West, redeye-at-the-bar variety. So the federal government couldn't have envisioned that much of the public land known as the Garrison Common that the cabinet was giving the city for fairs, demonstrations and park was going to be consumed by a giant foreign casino complex where the object is not to entertain but to extract tens of millions from Torontonians.
I'm sure that skyscrapers filled with lawyers billing hundreds per minute will say that it's all just peachy legally. But not all lawyers will agree. After all,  a Canadian bank  refused to finance entrepreneurs who wanted to build a major project at the Ex because its lawyers didn't like the grey questions around  three versions of the city acquiring the land for fun and parks.
And these entrepreneurs were rich and could have paid for it themselves. Except that's not the way these entrepreneurs got rich.
I have raised these questions over the years as a governor of Exhibition Place (EP) and a director of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) . When I was vice-chair of EP and CNE president, the answers were the same as when I was just one of the guys. No problem,  I was told. But what about the legal opinion given the entrepreneurs? Since EP was run by a lawyer on loan from City Hall, I would have accepted the reassurances except they were general and vague and not specific and definite as if they were carved in stone.
Alan Tonks, then Metro chairman and now Liberal MP, went off to Ottawa to talk about the ownership and various uses. I wondered why he had to clear the air, so to speak, when  the city legal report this year dated Feb. 6 insists that since 1954, when the downtown council gave the Ex to the Metro regional government because it didn't want to pay for it,  the city can use the park, now legally called a place, for any purpose.
 That's in addition to a list of stated uses including parks, exhibitions and fairs in addition to sports and public entertainment. Ironically, this latest version of city council is compelled by its own act to hold an annual fair. Since the city through EP management keeps making this difficult, it will be interesting if EP covers most of the site with buildings that the fair can't use, what the city will then do for a fair.
Of course the fair became independent from the city on April 1, April Fool's Day, which certainly captures how the fair directors felt they were treated by the city.
I'm hardly opposed to casinos. I moved the motion for the fair to have one and was involved in the early discussions with Queen's Park over this, since the city officially was and still is opposed to year-round casinos.
A casino on the waterfront would be great. There's plenty of locations for one without jamming it in EP, which would kill the fair. It's not important to me whether any reader ever goes go to the Ex, or says stupidly that there's never anything new there. The key question is why ruin a fair that doesn't cost the city a cent, in fact pays millions to the city in rent and various charges, when there are expanses of land where even a pothole would be an improvement?
Remember that I'm not a lawyer. Thank God. But I hate reading a city legal report that pretends that there hasn't been major concerns and that if the city really screws around with the place, anappeal could go to the courts or the Commons.
The picture above of the Princes' Gates is a symbol to me of the BS and downright rudeness that has been turned on the CNE for daring to point out that a casino complex would kill the Ex and that the only reason there is an EP today is because of an entire century when directors drawn from all over Southern Ontario built the Ex and ran the Ex while Toronto councillors pleaded for free meals and passes and drinks. They  interfered so much with the politics of the Ex that Paul Godfrey, the Metro chairman who now presides over lotteries and overpays his staff,  and Bill Davis, one of our best premiers ever, changed the provincial act about how the Ex is run just in case they wanted to build a domed stadium there free of city opposition.
The confusion over who runs what down there, which baffles too many directors and governors, should be blamed on those Tory Twins who took a fine organization and crippled it.
Lately, of course, casino propagandists have slapped this image on their proposals and then some jerk councillor got upset when the CNE complained legally that no one had any right to presume to use the images and history and reputation of the CNE without the fair's blessing.
The fair may be the only outfit at the table with clean hands. Ironically, too many governors, EP brass and city councillors are the ones acting like carnies.

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