Saanich council cast the die to get more info about attracting a casino in the future, despite objections from a leading community figure and some personal reservations from individual councillors.
Council unanimously tasked staff to update the issue after Victoria declined to host a casino after it had already beaten Saanich for the right to host.
“This is simply a request for information, an update,” said Coun Susan Brice, who had tabled the notice of motion. “It is embedded in what a previous council had taken as an opportunity…for Saanich.”
Council’s unanimous support for additional research came after it heard from Haji Charania, president of the North Quadra Community Association. The long-time community leader strenuously objected to the motion for additional information sparking a short but sharp exchange with Mayor Fred Haynes.
“My ethical, moral and socio-economic values do not support this motion at all,” he said as council received public input before voting. “With due respect, I must say I’m surprised and somewhat disappointed that this motion has come from one of our senior and experienced councillors, Coun. Brice.”
Council, he said, should champion environmental causes supported by Brice “and forget about the gaming.”
This comment prompted a rebuke from the mayor. “Talk to council in general, or I will have to turn your mic off,” Haynes said.
Charania repeated his opposition but in more general terms.
If Charania’s opposition was vociferous, the public also heard more nuanced tones from councillors.
Coun. Ned Taylor said he does not necessarily support a casino coming to Saanich, but he wants to receive more information before making a final decision.
Coun. Rebecca Mersereau echoed Taylor. “I’m quickly learning there are times in politics, when you have to set aside, at least for a moment, your personal feelings or judgments that you may have in order to fully evaluate [something] with an open mind,” she said. “This is one of those times.”
Haynes was less reserved in his endorsement of the motion. A casino as part of a larger entertainment complex could help Saanich generate more commercial taxes, easing the burden on residential taxpayers, who are currently responsible for raising 76.21 per cent of municipal taxes.
“Those who do not choose to gamble, or have distaste of gambling, they don’t have to use that facility,” he said.
The region will likely host a second casino somewhere, if the market bears it, he added. “So why would this go to the West Shore, or some other city, if Saanich was second in line in the previous competition?” he asked. “So by this expression of interest for a report, I’m hoping that the [British Columbia Lottery Corporation] recognize that there is a return of our interest.”