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BC Liberal MLA criticizes Coleman's casino intervention as ‘inappropriate’
BC Liberal MLA Gordon Hogg says he is “surprised” and “disappointed” to learn that B.C.’s minister responsible for gaming made personal calls to Surrey councillors during last week’s public-hearing process on the Gateway casino-entertainment complex.
“I’m planning to have further discussion with my colleagues on this,” the Surrey-White Rock MLA said Tuesday.
Hogg said it’s a matter of concern for him that his BC Liberal colleague, Rich Coleman, was talking to council members between two public hearings on the South Surrey project.
Hogg said such conversation was open to interpretations that it was an attempt to influence the decision.
Repeated attempts by Peace Arch News to reach Coleman since Monday morning have been unsuccessful.
Couns. Tom Gill and Bruce Hayne confirmed to PAN independently Tuesday that they had both received calls from Coleman between the first public-hearing session Jan. 14 and a second session Jan. 18. Both councillors said Coleman advised them that if the project didn’t pass, Surrey would not receive any other applications through BC Lottery Corporation.
Neither councillor, however, interpreted Coleman’s message as lobbying.
“Intervention by anybody in between (the sessions), I think, is inappropriate,” Hogg told PAN. “Any type of intervention was inappropriate.”
The proposal was ultimately rejected by council in a 5-4 early-morning vote Saturday, prompting widely published comments from Coleman, also minister responsible for housing and minister of energy and mines, that he was disappointed for Surrey and that BCLC would not consider any other casino proposals in the city because it had lost confidence in council’s decision-making.
Hogg said he objected to such criticism of “a city council doing its due diligence,” adding that the remarks indicated an assumption that councillors could make up their mind before the “process of public engagement” was complete.
Hogg noted that land-use issues and the related public-hearing process must be “the sole purview of the City of Surrey.”
He said he feels Surrey council was in possession of all the information it needed to make its decision without further input, noting he and fellow Surrey MLAs Kevin Falcon and Stephanie Cadieux had taken care not to weigh in on the casino proposal.
“We all stayed out of the process and allowed Surrey to (make its decision),” Hogg said.
“To find out after the fact that some of my colleagues have not done the same – I was surprised and, to some degree, disappointed that took place.”
Gill said he had initially contacted BCLC, seeking information on whether the Crown corporation would entertain a casino/entertainment centre proposal elsewhere in Surrey.
“I had been seeking clarification from BCLC,” Gill said, adding he was “quite surprised” to be called back by Coleman.
“The minister made it very clear that the only opportunity was South Surrey, full-stop, period.”
Gill, who voted for the licence, and Hayne, who voted against, said Coleman told them it was either the Gateway project – which would include a hotel, convention centre and theatre – or nothing.
Coleman’s message was “take it or leave it,” they agreed.
Hayne said he is “not philosophically against gambling” but voted to reject the application because he felt the location was wrong.
He said he returned a call from Coleman before the second public hearing to be told it “would be very unlikely” there would be another Surrey proposal.
“I don’t know that I would characterize it as lobbying,” he said.
“He was making his position quite clear, what the consequences would be.”
Hayne said he found Coleman’s comments after the vote “unfortunate,” particularly his questioning of council’s decision-making.
Hayne said council members took pains to assess the benefits and drawbacks of the proposal, no matter which way they voted.
“We conducted ourselves in an open, transparent way, and did what we believed was best for the future of the city,” he said.
A media representative for Coleman referred questions to BCLC. Mayor Dianne Watts was also not available for comment.