Observations on the December 3 Board of Health meeting and how the casino report was handled.
By Graham Crawford
Published December 10, 2012
Some of you know I've been fairly vocal in my opposition to a downtown casino. Some of you may agree with my position, some may not.
The more I read and learn, the stronger my opposition becomes. Permit me five casino-related facts to provide just a bit of context. They are all taken from the report Health and Social Impacts of Gambling [PDF] by Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Medical Officer of Health for the City of Hamilton.
There are many more facts contained in Dr. Richardson's report, but I believe the five I just mentioned will give you some sense for the tone, scope, and focus of the report.
It's pretty compelling, and quite disturbing, reading. That is, if you read it.
Which brings us to the Board of Health meeting held in Council Chambers on December 3. The Board is comprised of all 15 Councillors and the Mayor.
Dr. Richardson's report was distributed to all Councillors on the afternoon of November 29, five days prior to the meeting. I don't know how many had read or not read it other than those who said they had or hadn't. Farr and Partridge had read it. Bratina and Ferguson said they hadn't finished it.
Whitehead made a few comments about research methodology, but not much else. I have no way of knowing about the others because they never said a word about the report. Period.
You can now read the report [PDF] for yourself. It took me about an hour to go through it and to pull excerpts. Longer if I had been trying to also craft questions for Dr. Richardson.
Thanks to Joey Coleman's tireless efforts at live streaming and recording of Committee (and some Sub-Committee) meetings, you can have a look at what went down. BTW, the online agenda from Clerks did not even have Dr. Richardson's report listed or linked. Apparently, it was added later.
I've chosen five clips, each of which begins with a few notes from me.
Watch Councillor Whitehead's hand during this clip while Bratina is talking. It goes up. It goes down. It goes up again before Bratina even asks why his hand is up, or for a mover to receive the report. Highly anticipatory on Terry's part if you ask me.
This is Bratina's point of order interjection. The report has been received. Listen to what the Clerk says about how "fruitful" it would be to ask questions. Bratina wants to be more familiar with the report, although he mentions for the second time, "I find nothing in here that I really have issue with but I really haven't had a chance to get through this." That's quite a sentence. No issues with its content, yet haven't read all of the content. If you say so.
Bratina effectively telling Farr to reconsider asking questions at this time of Dr. Elizabeth Richardson. Please listen fully to Councillor Farr's comments. He wants to know why a report that is listed as one of the items for discussion cannot be discussed.
The answer? Back to the "subtle point" Bratina raised through is point of order. That's right, Mr. Bratina is now embracing rules. too rich by half if you ask me.
Pay close attention to how Councillor Farr deals with Bratina's second attempt to interrupt.
Councillor Farr tries to get back on track and asks a few questions of Dr. Richardson, particularly the impact casino proximity has on rates of problem gambling.
What would a meeting where you rush through a decision on a report that includes information about increased suicide rates from problem gambling that will be exacerbated by the proximity of the casino to already disadvantaged neighbourhoods be without a hilarious closing courtesy of Mr. Bratina, joking about research methodology (rather than asking questions about how to stop people from killing themselves)?
I laughed 'til I cried. And then I cried some more.
As I said at the beginning, draw your own conclusions. For me, this seemed way too rushed. We have our resident expert, the author of the report, sitting in the Chambers ready to answer questions. None are forthcoming, but mostly because of a point of order.
You decide if you think this appears to have been orchestrated. I don't know if it was, but I must say the video at least raises the question.
Let me conclude by saying I sent an very professionally worded and balanced email to Councillor Whitehead, mentioning my observations and my concerns about his hand raising, even mentioning that I was writing this article. As of writing, he had not yet responded.
Hands up, everyone who thinks this is not the way they want to see their city government behave on a matter of extreme importance to public health.