Kingston’s mayor is upset that his city’s casino debate is being hijacked by external forces — in particular, a lobbyist employed by the neighbouring municipalities of Gananoque and the Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands.
“What I’m concerned about is how we have a Toronto-based outside lobbyist hired to shape the discourse in Kingston,” Mayor Mark Gerretsen said.
A poll was released last week by the Thousand Islands Accommodation Partners indicating that 60 per cent of Kingstonians did not want a casino and 78 per cent wanted a referendum to settle the issue.
“It cannot be a coincidence. We are all playing into the hands of what they want us to do,” said Gerretsen.
Several councillors have a motion calling for a referendum on next week’s council agenda.
The lobbyist Gerretsen refers to is Warren Kinsella, a Sun Media columnist and Liberal party adviser. Kinsella is the head of Daisy Consulting Group, which was hired by the Township of Leeds and Thousand Islands and the Town of Gananoque recently to co-ordinate a public relations effort to keep its casino.
Kingston council voted on Oct. 29 to also vie for a casino which, if successful, means Gananoque’s would shut down.
Leeds and Thousand Islands deputy-mayor Heidi Conarroe says the Daisy contract and the commissioning of the poll don’t come from the same source.
“If Mayor Gerretsen is concerned about the dialogue moving away from Kingstonians, maybe he should listen to his own constituents,” said Conarroe. “Sixty per cent don’t want a casino and 78 per cent want a referendum.”
Conarroe said the town and the township, which receive about $1 million a year each from casino revenues, are trying to survive economically.
“We’re in a David and Goliath battle with Kingston. They’re huge,” she said. “Bringing in a lobbyist was one of the many steps we’ve taken.”
Kinsella has to declined comment.
Conarroe described the Thousand Islands Charity Casino as a “huge employer” and a “game changer” for their economies.
She noted that casino revenues would amount to less than 1 per cent of Kingston’s tax revenues, but the township those revenue represents 12 per cent of the annual budget of $10 million.
Conarroe said Daisy Consulting is not profiting from the contract.
“They firmly believe in what we’re doing. They’re doing this at cost. They’re not making a profit,” she said.
“The message we’re trying to get out is we don’t want to lose the casino. I don’t know how people see this, including the mayor, but his people don’t want it, our people do.”
Earlier this week Warren Kinsella and Kingston Mayor Mark Gerretsen became embroiled in a Twitter exchange over the referendum issue, with Kinsella describing the mayor’s opposition to a referendum as “arrogance defined.”
Gerretsen said he regrets responding.
“He’s an outside lobbyist being hired by Gananoque to do these things. He’s doing what he does best. But I took his bait and I shouldn’t have,” said Gerretsen. “Now he’s hiding and won’t say a thing about it."