“I’m not going to comment on our policy. I’d better not. It’s not my place to do that.”
— Recently appointed gaming critic, MLA Cliff Cullen, when asked whether his Progressive Conservative party was in favour of the NDP government’s aboriginal gaming policy.
What in the world were the Progressive Conservatives thinking when they appointed Spruce Woods MLA Cliff Cullen to the gaming critic portfolio?
We’ve got nothing against Mr. Cullen, but this baffling appointment has placed the Tory MLA into a rather obvious conflict of interest, and effectively muzzled the party’s ability to criticize the NDP government regarding possible delays to the Spirit Sands Casino development south of Carberry.
As the Sun has reported this week, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the management company it hired to oversee construction of the casino and run the facility’s operations — Hemisphere Gaming Inc. — have yet to file a site plan with Manitoba Hydro for the building.
That and the fact that C.W. Driver — the general contractor previously hired to build the Spirit Sands Casino — was no longer part of the project as of late last year, are pretty good indications that the development won’t open by the end of this year, as the AMC said it would.
And yet, the provincial government and the AMC are refusing to even discuss the issue when contacted by the media.
Calls to Dave Chomiak, the minister responsible for gaming in Manitoba, never got past his spinner. Instead of direct answers to our requests for clarity on the government’s aboriginal gaming policy, we received a terse little email from spokeswoman Sally Housser saying the government had “no plans for changes to the current policy.”
She didn’t even have the common courtesy to pick up the phone and tell us off in person — not that many of the government communicators do that anyway these days.
And after two days of back and forth emails with AMC spokeswoman Sheila North Wilson, the official position of the organization is this:
“There is no information to share with you at this time,” North Wilson wrote. “When there is an update, I will be sure to share that with you.”
Frankly, if construction of the casino development was still on schedule, it stands to reason that the AMC would have said just that. Instead, they’re turtling when the media comes calling and the optics of that are significant.
Whatever Brandonites may think of our city’s attempts to woo the AMC and its gaming licences to this community — for or against — Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst got it right yesterday when she questioned the provincial NDP’s ongoing commitment to a process that, after more than a decade, has yet to produce any viable gaming centre in western Manitoba.
“If they’re serious about economic development, if they’re frankly serious about downtown revitalization, if they’re serious about employment and job creation opportunities, then they have to at some point look in a different direction than the Spirit Sands casino at Carberry,” Decter Hirst said.
“And so, at what point is that? How patient are they on how long its going to take to get that project off the ground?”
That’s a fair question, one that we would expect Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, the provincial Tories, to ask — repeatedly — until they get an answer.
But that didn’t happen. Instead, the Tories put up their shiny new gaming critic, MLA Cliff Cullen, whose constituency of Spruce Woods stands to benefit if and when the $11-million Spirit Sands Casino is finally built.
The best critique he could muster was a call for the province to “have another look” at the province’s 2007 First Nation Gaming Market Study that suggested western Manitoba could only sustain one medium-sized casino.
But in patently refusing to comment directly on the NDP’s floundering aboriginal gaming policy, he opened himself and his party to criticism. And the irony is delicious — a Brandon mayor with links to Manitoba’s New Democrats, stealing the Tory thunder on this file with her attack on the province.
Tory leader Brian Pallister may want to rethink the structure of his shadow cabinet rather soon. We hear the current justice critic, Brandon West MLA Reg Helwer, may have a few things to say about gaming in the province.
Just a hint.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 8, 2013