Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Watts' Open Letter Raises Questions about Municipal Democracy in B.C.

Ms. Dianne Watts has been the B.C. Surrey Mayor since 2005; she has a policy of ensuring public consultation even when B.C. municipal law says don't bother as is the case with gaming applications. Her refusal to succumb to political pressure from the B.C. provincial government, developers, and fellow council members in regard to the Gateway casino application is evidence of her commitment to the Surrey people.  

Background on Mayor Watts' Open Letter: 

On January 19th, Mayor Watts cast the final council vote against the Gateway Casino application for South Surrey.

During this hearing process, there are reports that the B.C. provincial minister for gaming, Mr. Rich Coleman telephoned two Surrey council members, and publicly threatened the Surrey council that if they don't vote in favor of Gateway's application, Surrey will have no more gaming developments. Critics views Mr. Coleman's actions and comments as interference in B.C. municipal democracy (Peace Arch News, Alex Browne, January 29, 2013).

Following the Surrey council vote, Mr. Michael Graydon, CEO of the B.C. Lottery Corporation, said publicly that Mayor Watts never voiced any concerns about the Gateway casino and yet voted against it, and that Surrey is "very difficult to deal with" (Peace Arch News, Alex Browne, January 29, 2013).

The four Surrey council members who voted in favor of the Gateway casino argue that the applicant was fully compliant with the Surrey council's gaming policy, and that the council could have imposed development related provisions, which may cause the rejection of the application as being perceived as "not acting in responsibly or in good faith" (Peace Arch News, Alex Browne, January 29, 2013). The four council members make no mention of the Surrey public opinion for or against the casino application. Mayor Watts says "when you’ve got that amount of opposition just for the gaming licence you really have to sit back and take note" (Vancouver Sun, Kelly Sinoski, January 21, 2013). The public hearing on the Gateway casino lasted a record-setting 13 hours with hundreds of speakers and spanned two nights (The Province, Sam Cooper, January 19, 2013).

Under B.C gaming law, there is no regulation for a formal, legal public hearing process. Mayor Watts and the rest of the council held a public hearing nevertheless in order to uphold their commitment to public consultation.

Mayor Dianne Watts was elected Surrey Mayor in 2005, and she has won three straight mayoral elections. In 2010, through the 2010 World Mayor Prize run by The City Mayors Foundation, Mayor Watts was selected as the fourth best mayor in the world. The award goes to mayors who make long-lasting contributions to their communities.

The Foundation for Democratic Advancement's scheduled interview of Mayor Watts on the FDA's World Democracy Discussion, has been delayed due to Mayor Watts recovering from an illness. This interview will be aired on the FDA's World Democracy Discussion podcast in the next one or two weeks.

Currently, the Foundation for Democratic Advancement is working on a report on Alberta municipal democracy which deals with similar issues as in British Columbia. This report will be published in late February, 2013.

Related Articles:

More Background Information on Mayor Dianne Watts

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director

Surrey Mayor Watt's Open Letter to the British Columbia Gaming Corporation (B.C. crown corporation): 

I feel compelled to address the inflammatory public comments that have been made by BCLC CEO Michael Graydon.

The statement that “something transpired in the last few days and I don’t know what,” implies that I acted irresponsibly.  The only thing that transpired was public consultation.  Mr. Graydon’s comments show a complete disregard for the public process.

To state that he is “disappointed” in my actions and “if she truthfully had issues,” is crossing a line that a regulator should not cross.  I did not have any issues with Gateway or the proponent.  I was concerned with the public opposition, which no one can “fix”.

The facts are as follows:

1.    A rezoning application came forward and I did not support 1st and 2nd reading.

2.    On January 25, 2010, a public hearing occurred related to the site and the rezoning by-law in question, and the architect stated the development will be a 200 room hotel, including a restaurant.  Council and the public were told:

“if the casino component does not receive a license then the convention centre would be expanded to support trade show and other such uses.” Richard Holvert, Architect; Regular Council – Public Hearing Minutes.  January 25, 2010.

I supported 3rd reading of the rezoning bylaw because there was little public concern raised at that public hearing, and I knew that before a casino use could be included on the site a separate Council approval process would be required, including a separate public hearing.

3.    The developer, prior to the 2010 public hearing, stated:

“But, failing to get approval for a casino from B.C. Lottery Corporation won’t be a deal-breaker… the hotel and convention centre would still proceed.” Vancouver Province, October 4, 2009.

4.    The Newton bingo facility has been located in Newton for several decades, and there was considerable public support in October 2009 when the slot machines were approved.  In fact, 4,273 people were in favour and only 84 opposed the project.  More than 17 community organizations spoke in support, including non-profit organizations, sporting and arts groups, businesses, and social service agencies.

I, along with Council, worked with the proponent to define a project that would have the best chance for success, and serve the residents of Surrey, as we moved forward to the public consultation component of the process.  Our input was intended to assist the developer, but was not approval for the project because we are committed to public consultation prior to making decisions.

If, in fact, the CEO of BCLC expected this to be fully supported, then why bother going through with the public consultation process and a public hearing that continued for 13 hours?  We must ensure that we have an open and transparent process where the Mayor and Councillors can make decisions and be supported, whichever side of the issue they are on.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts


Thank you for sharing your perspective.