Rich Coleman, B.C.’s minister responsible for gaming, has responded to criticisms of calls he made to two Surrey councillors during the public-hearing process on a South Surrey casino proposal.
Both Couns. Tom Gill and Bruce Hayne told Peace Arch News that Coleman had called them between two public-hearing sessions last week with the message that there would be no more BC Lottery Corporation proposals for casinos in the city if the South Surrey application was rejected.
Fellow BC Liberal Gordon Hogg (Surrey-White Rock) told PAN earlier this week that such contact could be interpreted as an attempt to influence the vote.
Thursday afternoon, Coleman issued a news release: “I am always open to discuss projects and answer questions for issues falling under my ministry, which is what I did in this case. That will not change.”
Coleman has not responded directly to repeated calls made to him and through media representatives since Monday. He had been asked to comment on his conversations with Gill and Hayne and his statements following the Saturday-morning decision in which Surrey rejected the casino’s gaming license on a split vote.
Soon after, Coleman told Vancouver media that he and the BCLC had lost confidence in Surrey council and their decision-making process.
His comments were slammed Tuesday by Hogg, who criticized Coleman’s calls to councillors as an “intervention” in a land-use process that is “the sole purview of Surrey council.”
Watts issued an open letter to BCLC Thursday afternoon saying that “Mr. Graydon’s comments show a complete disregard for the public process.”
In Coleman’s statement, headlined “Surrey gaming decision proves process works,” he said he wants to “express my appreciation for the time and thoughtfulness Surrey city council and the community as a whole took to examine the merits of the entertainment and gaming complex proposal and to be clear that I respect the final decision.”
Coleman also lauded Surrey council for exercising “its responsibility on behalf of residents by conducting a thorough, open process that led to an independent decision.”
“I can tell you from experience that these types of decisions are complicated and are not reached easily,” he said.
“We have never put a casino in any community that has not wanted one. That will continue to be the provincial government’s policy.”
Premier Christy Clark has not responded to requests for comment.