Plus: A $5.5B-hole in spending, Baber's bid, Oppo platform planks, Ford on first responders, and what's on tap in the parliamentary cafeteria
ABOVE THE FOLD
A NOT-SO-SAFE BET — As the launch date for the province’s competitive iGaming market approaches, concerns are ramping up over the impact on addicts, revenues and jobs.
April 4 is when authorized operators can begin offering online gambling to Ontario bettors, and so far at least thirty have applied to the regulator, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.
But some are worried the province is rushing much-needed standards — particularly on the self-exclusion side. (iGaming was originally expected to launch last December.)
While individual operators will be required to have self-exclusion and break-in-play programs — in which folks experiencing addiction issues can voluntarily lock themselves out of a gambling website for a certain period of time — that won’t apply across all platforms when the system launches.
It means, for example, that an addict can lock themselves out of a site like Draft Kings, but log on to Poker Stars and keep gambling immediately after.
That’s much more lax than the rules for land-based casinos. In that scenario, self-excluders have their photo and name entered into a database that’s used by every casino in the province. If the gambler is spotted by a facial recognition camera, they will be asked to leave and can be fined for trespassing.
The AGCO’s standards say that a “coordinated, centralized” self-exclusion program will eventually be in place “to allow players to automatically exclude themselves from all online Operator platforms, including OLG.” But there’s no specific timeline.
Dr. NIGEL TURNER — a scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and an assistant professor at U of T — suggests the holdup may have something to do with the added work required to coordinate dozens of online operators, which would be required to share customer data with each other. That could get complicated in comparison to programs for land-based operators, since there are only two main ones in Ontario.
“There is a self-exclusion program at OLG’s online gambling site which is coordinated with the casinos as well. I see no reason that would not be extended to all companies offering legal online gambling in Ontario. Perhaps it might take a while for that to be set up,” Turner said.
While self-exclusion programs are common across North America, some advocates say they’re a way for operators to appear as though they’re helping without actually doing much. Ontario’s current program has also failed to keep gambling addicts out.
Meanwhile, unions have long raised concerns about possible job losses at casinos. More recently, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce laid out its recommendations in a letter to Attorney General DOUG DOWNEY, citing a study that suggests that over the next 5 years, there is a potential loss of more than 2,500 jobs, $191 million in municipal contributions and $3 billion in provincial revenues.
The OCC wants the government to work with land-based casinos to minimize job losses, ensure “a negligible impact” on municipal revenue sharing, provide First Nations and municipalities with a revenue sharing agreement a la the gas tax program, and establish a competitive tax rate for iGaming “that is fair to land-based casinos but also encourages offshore operators to join Ontario’s proposed framework.”
The AGCO did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
DOUG FORD’S THURSDAY — 1:30 p.m.: The Premier attends the Runnymede Healthcare Centre’s announcement about a first-in-Canada post-traumatic stress injury support for first responders. Also on hand from the province: Solicitor General SYLVIA JONES, Health Minister CHRISTINE ELLIOTT, Associate Mental Health Minister MICHAEL TIBOLLO, OPP Commissioner THOMAS CARRIQUE, Police Association of Ontario president MARK BAXTER.
— 9 a.m.: Join pollster GREG LYLE of Innovative Research Group and yours truly as we tee up the campaign with the savvy folks at Sussex Strategy Group. Get your seat.
— 9:30 a.m.: A “major” platform announcement from Green Leader MIKE SCHREINER in Toronto.
— 3 p.m.: Dr. KIERAN MOORE makes his penultimate Covid briefing in the Media Studio.
— 3 p.m.: Liberal Leader STEVEN DEL DUCA is in Oakville for a platform announcement about supporting parents.
— 7 p.m.: The NDP will nominate their candidate for Elgin—Middlesex—London — vacant now that longtime PC rep JEFF YUREK has officially stepped down. That would be ANDY KROEKER, executive director at the West Elgin Community Health Centre. Featuring PEGGY SATTLER.
FUNDRAISING WATCH — 6 p.m.: A $1,000-a-head PC fundraiser in Toronto. Invite. — 8 p.m.: For $250, Grit supporters can rub elbows with Brampton South candidate MARILYN RAPHAEL and Milton MP ADAM VAN KOEVERDEN. RSVP.
ON THE ORDER PAPER
THE HOUSE IS IN — First up, Labour Minister MONTE MCNAUGHTON is expected to kick off second-reading debate on Bill 88, the Working for Workers Act, which among other things establishes a $15-minimum wage for app-based gig workers (active hours only) and allows out-of-province workers to register in their profession or trade within 30 days.
— After Question Period, a couple of votes: to close out third-reading debate on Bill 84, the PCs latest red-tape reduction package that also pushes back the budget deadline, as well as for second reading of NDPer LAURA MAE LINDO’s backbench bill aimed at beefing up anti-racism accountability in schools and adding anti-Asian racism to the forms of systemic racism listed in the law. Lindo talks about her bill in the Media Studio at 1 p.m.
— Later on, Independent ROMAN BABER’s Jobs and Jabs Act, an anti-vax mandate bill for workers, is up for second-reading debate.
AROUND THE PRECINCT — Police are opening up the roads surrounding the Legislature after blocking access following the so-called freedom convoy protest. Memo from Leg security: “They continue to keep a strong presence in the area and may re-engage road closures in response to information of a vehicle demonstration in the downtown core.”
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— SHORT-CHANGED: A new report from budget watchdog PETER WELTMAN shows the province spent $5.5 billion less than planned in the first three quarters of the year (up until December; the fiscal year ends March 31). That includes $1.3 billion less on health care — something the NDP slammed as “shortchanging” patients waiting for surgery. Full report.
“FORD is forcing millions of Ontarians to wait in pain, while their health deteriorates, for procedures like heart bypass surgeries or knee replacements because he refuses to spend the money,” said Finance critic CATHERINE FIFE.
— UBER APPEAL: “Uber says it intends to appeal a recent Ministry of Labour decision that found a Toronto courier was an employee, not an independent contractor as the company had argued,” and therefore entitled to standard pay and benefits. The Canadian Press has the story.
— BAD ADS: Scoop from the CBC: “Just three months before Ontario’s provincial election, Premier DOUG FORD’s government is spending an unknown amount of public money on an advertising campaign that the opposition parties are slamming as partisan. The campaign titled ‘Ontario is getting stronger’ features television, radio and online ads touting the provincial government's role in economic recovery.”
— ROMAN AT THE GATES: “BABER, the Independent York Centre MPP kicked out of the provincial Progressive Conservatives last year, said Wednesday he has ‘been receiving some calls encouraging me to run. I’ve also made some phone calls trying to determine the level of support and a lot of folks have been supportive,’ he told the Star.
Save the date: Card-carrying Conservatives are set to pick their leader September 10 — wannabe leaders have until June 3 (the day after Ontario’s election) to sign up new members.
— PUMPED UP: The NDP wants to prevent “price gouging” at the pumps, tabling a bill — the Fairness in Petroleum Products Pricing Act — that would require the Ontario Energy Board to regulate the retail and wholesale markup of petroleum products.
— BOOSTING CAPACITY IN SCARBOROUGH: Platform plank from the Grits: $1.9 billion to redevelop the Birchmount and Centenary hospital sites in Scarborough — a politically competitive district. That would boost capacity and beds by 30 per cent, according to the party.
— POLICING THE POLICE: After the NDP and Liberals demanded the PCs cut their appointee to the Ottawa Police Services Board because he reportedly protested with the so-called freedom rally in the capital — all three provincial appointees have resigned and will be replaced.
Not everyone is happy about it.
— DEREGULATION: “Ontario plans to stop regulating traditional Chinese medicine practitioners and acupuncturists, saying it would allow more people to work in the field, but people in the profession say they oppose the move and weren't consulted,” CP reports.
MOVERS AND SHAKERS
PROMOTION — AMANDA ATTAR is now director of stakeholders and strategic planning to the Minister of Government and Consumer Services. Attar was previously a senior policy adviser.
BEYOND THE BUBBLE — RACHAEL WRAITH has joined Global Public Affairs as director of communications. Wraith hails from the Town of Ajax, where she most recently served as manager of corporate comms.
Politicians of all stripes taking part in the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s advocacy series, focusing on “business predictability and growth while building capacity within the economy and health care system to withstand future challenges.”…The infamous upside down bridge haunting Liberal Leader STEVEN DEL DUCA as part of the PCs line of attack:
A deadpan birthday celebration for the Finance Minister:
Debate got heated when Oppo Leader ANDREA HORWATH took Premier DOUG FORD to task over record-high gas prices, pointing out that PCs pledge for a 5.7-cent cut is now something he says he’ll “look into.”
The NDP kicked off the debate with the claim of 20 million backlogged surgeries — but Health Minister CHRISTINE ELLIOTT said it’s actually more like 58,000. (The Ontario Medical Association says 21 million patient services have been postponed thanks to Covid.)
THE HIGHLIGHTS: Clearing the surgery backlog — Why did the Premier spur sky-high rents by ripping up controls? — Make Ontario more resilient to climate change — Up North, non-emergency transfers previously done by paramedics are being downloaded to private transportation and handled by hospitals — Doing more for Ukraine — Sitting on $5.5 billion, per the FAO — Why did it take two years to differentiate between patients admitted to hospital with Covid and because of Covid? — Implementing an independent equity audit across all Ontario schools after a Waterloo principal called the cops on a four-year-old Black kid — Where is the financial support package for trucker-convoy-ravaged businesses in Ottawa? — Funding school repairs — Stalling an MZO for supportive housing in Willowdale. TRANSCRIPT.
Here are the new, renewed and amended registrations over the past 24 hours:
— Tim Smitheman, Rubicon Strategy: Janssen
— Kevin Den Heijer, Enterprise Canada: Addictions and Mental Health Ontario
— Mitch Heimpel, Enterprise Canada: Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association
— Samuel Duncan, Wellington Advocacy: Innovative Hydrogen Solutions, Ecotex Health Care Linen Services
🍽️ WHAT’S ON THE MENU: Wondering whether to pack a lunch before heading to the Pink Palace? Here’s what the Quorum Cafe is serving up in the basement cafeteria Thursday: Teriyaki beef bowl — Mushroom and Swiss smash burger, combo with fries or salad.
⏳ COUNTDOWN: T-minus 91 days until the Election…62 days until the official start of the 2022 campaign…58 days until the budget is (now legally) due out.