Community expresses concerns over expanding Woodbine complex in “desperate, desperate area” of Etobicoke

April 17, 2018

By Arianne Robinson

Mayor John Tory’s Executive Committee moved forward proposed new developments for the Woodbine Racetrack, which involve expanding the complex to include hotels, restaurants, and a casino.

The city will get a $16 million hosting fee – which is approximately 2.2 per cent of the total $750 million gross “slot revenue,” according to OLG financial statements – the city’s acting chief financial officer, Joe Farag, told the committee on Monday.

Local councillor Michael Ford was enthusiastic about the future of the development.

“What goes beyond this project [in future phases of a master plan that is not before the committee], let me tell you – it is a miniature city of investment about connecting with the local colleges and universities in the area, creating green space, residential development, and the whole nine yards… it is the greater vision for the north-west. It just doesn’t stop here,” Ford said.

“I do believe this is a significant investment in [solutions to fix] some of the challenges we see in North Etobicoke. This [plan] will go a long way to help us improve the economic viability of the north-west [part of the city].”

Mayor John Tory endorsed the plan. “There’s no such thing as a bad deal for the city that produces 5,000 or more jobs for people who need them, and many of those jobs are going to go to local people [in Rexdale]. So there’s no such thing as that being a bad deal. “You won’t hear me describing a bad deal out of thousands of jobs for people.” Tory said, referring to an earlier comment made by a councillor criticizing the plan.

Mike Williams, the city’s general manager for Economic Development & Culture, said that while the Woodbine complex will create approximately 5,000 jobs (half in the casino and half outside in hotels and restaurants), the real increase to the city’s economy is actually less. “Somewhere else in the GTA, jobs won’t happen, so therefore the net impact, taken overall, is a third of that number – is about 1,600,” Williams said.   

Members of the public who came to speak about the item were skeptical of the community benefits in the plan before the committee.

“What we have in front of us is not a significant stretch for the operator in terms of what it would do normally,” John Cartwright of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council said in his deptuation to the mayor, Executive Committee, and staff in attendance. “There’s a number of things missing [from the plan], including a living wage, childcare, hard targets on construction, a labour peace agreement that was supposed to be part of the original frame, and monitoring and enforcement.”

Theo Lagakos, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada Local 533, told councillors, “If you look at the gaming industry, these guys live and breath trying to squeeze as much money out of people’s pockets as possible… It’s your civic duty to make them responsible to create good jobs.”

Asked about the potential positive impact of making childcare available on the site, Lagakos said the need can’t be understated.

“We have a lot of single moms, and a lot of times they’ll come to me, they’ll come to the union office, and they’re trying to manage things, manage their life, and most of them can’t afford any type of childcare… you hear horror stories. Sometimes someone will tell me in confidence, ‘I’ll leave my kid at home and work the night shift.’ You can’t do that, but people are desperate.

“That’s what Rexdale is. It’s a desperate, desperate area of the city, and no offense to Mr. Ford there, but nothing, nothing has been done in the last 30 years in Rexdale. My opinion.”

Staff recommendations for the expansion of gambling at Woodbine Racetrack and community benefits related to developments by Woodbine Entertainment Group are expected to be debated at the next council meeting.