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Wynne plays casino referendum close to the vest

By Kevin Werner • METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP

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 enough time to call residents to the polls.

The OLG is working with cities to determine where to locate new gaming facilities in 29 zones throughout the province, including a Hamilton/Burlington zone.

The OLG has given Hamilton politicians until March 1 to decide if they want to play host to a gaming facility in the downtown area. The city has scheduled two public meetings, set for Jan. 16 and 17, to discuss the issue. Councillors have already asked the OLG to hold off on their request for proposal process until the Hamilton could hold a referendum during the 2014 municipal election, but the OLG refused. The city has endorsed Flamboro Downs as its preferred location for a gaming facility.

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

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.

Wynne also addressed the provincial government’s social services cuts that have had a dramatic impact on Hamilton’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. Wynne 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, a report that was released last year and 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. Hamilton is looking at a 0 per cent tax increase this year after passing record low tax hikes the past two years. Wynne pointed out that, this year, Hamilton will receive $71 million in uploaded savings from services the province will be taking over.

Wynne took questions about various issues, across the province, including The Beer Store’s operations.

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

Three foreign multi-nationals, including Anheuser-Busch InBev, Molson Coors, and Sapporo, now operate the Beer Store, which was conceived in 1927, as the Brewers’ Retail.

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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