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Friday Wrap: Ford's popularity picks up, casino talk won't stop, pools and zoos threatened

To end the week, a look at the major stories that have been swirling around Toronto City Hall.

From Forum Research this morning comes the somewhat surprising news that the mayor's popularity has slowly started to recover. The pollster puts him at a 47% approval rating, up significantly from the 40% range he's been mired in since last summer.

The uptick proves that Ford is at his most popular than when he's not trying to achieve anything substantial. His attempts to implement major policy and budget changes through 2011 resulted only in battered and sinking poll numbers. The quieter, less divisive tone he's struck since the end of March has him on a better track with his soft-supporters.

The same poll also revealed that Ford would be competitive in a three-way mayoral race in 2014, which isn't surprising at all. Frankly, if the left and centre-left political factions can't get on the same page and mount a united front against Ford with a strong candidate, they both deserve to lose.

Casino debate rolls on, but no municipal pay-off

Toronto's casino debate continues, with talk of it being a ballot question in 2014. Reports say that MGM and other big-ticket Vegas casino conglomerates are already eyeing the city for a major casino resort development. Giorgio Mammoliti even attempted to sway people to the pro-casino side by citing the possibility of Celine Dion coming to town.

Arguments on this issue continue to focus far too much on the perceived morality of government-backed gambling. I have trouble with this line of debate because it's not as if Toronto doesn't already have gambling: slot machines are ringing at Woodbine seven-days-a-week and there are off-track betting storefronts located city-wide. The sky hasn't fallen.

The more relevant question is whether a casino will have a sustained, positive impact on the city's finances. All signs point to bust.

OLG isn't looking to make municipalities rich. Instead, they're looking to stick a local government with the costs of servicing a massive new entertainment complex while the province gets rich off direct gaming revenues and the Ontario share of the HST. By comparison, city revenues look to be virtually microscopic.

Unless council is able to get the province to offer far better terms on a casino deal than other municipalities have been granted, this whole debate remains a waste of time and a distraction from more important civic issues.

After last month's scare with new sports fees that almost were, we got word this week about further fallout from council's 2012 budget decisions. In short: a number of pools and wading pools across the city may still close and the small zoos at High Park and on Toronto Island are still threatened.

The cost of maintaining all threatened facilities is, in practical terms, minuscule: less than a million dollars a year combined.

These cuts remain on the table mostly because they were overlooked during last year's rushed and divisive budget process, as councillors and citizen groups worked to protect libraries and transit. Residents deserve a fair chance to provide feedback and look at the value-for-money these facilities provide. Council should step in and ensure no pools or zoos close until after a more thorough consultation and budget review process.

Every now and then, I enjoy some fried chicken, even though I know it's not always the healthiest thing to eat. If this seems like an irrelevant point to make in the context of a post about city politics, then, well, good. It's completely irrelevant. Let's keep our eyes on the issues that matter.

This post was originally published at on 2012-04-20T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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