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Anti-casino advocate running against pro-casino incumbent

Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc blames the candidate running against him with costing the city a new arena, while Christopher Duncanson-Hales contends he has nothing to apologize for in his opposition to the Kingsway Entertainment District and its associated casino
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Anti-casino advocate Christopher Duncanson-Hales, pictured during this year’s Pride Parade, is running against incumbent Bill Leduc for Ward 11 in this year’s municipal election.

The political fight for Ward 11 is being waged between its pro-casino incumbent and an anti-casino political newcomer who publicly opposed the Kingsway Entertainment District.

Unopposed until Christopher Duncanson-Hales’s candidacy was registered with the city earlier this week, Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc said his new political opponent carries a glaring red flag.

“I think our taxpayers should know that this gentleman cost them money, cost them an arena,” Leduc told Sudbury.com. “You want to support someone like that? Go for it.”

Duncanson-Hales was one of the key figures in the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal appeal against the Kingsway Entertainment District, a municipal arena/events centre project the city proposed to accompany a private hotel and casino. 

Leduc blames this appeal, which the LPAT dismissed in December 2020, for delaying the project long enough to push it into the pandemic. Its costs ballooned during the pandemic to such a point city council voted to back out of the project earlier this month.

Between this and other legal expenses, the city estimates they have spent approximately $770,000 in legal costs in relation to the KED. This is in addition to a $1.1-million price tag for delayed site preparation work, which came in response to Gateway Casinos’ concerns in relation to a now-dismissed OPP investigation and a Minnow Lake Restoration Group legal challenge later struck down as “entirely without merit.” 

Duncanson-Hales contends he had “no choice” but to join the earlier legal challenge against the KED, which he said he opposed due to its inclusion of a private casino.

During a public hearing the city hosted, he submitted a written request for a socio-economic impact study on the impact of moving a casino from Chelmsford to The Kingsway, and the increase in gambling this would bring to the city. His request was denied.

“If that’s what you give us as citizens, then we have no other choice but to use the legislated processes and tools to deal with it,” he said, adding he joined several other appellants in the legal challenge and was spurred by members of the faith community of Sudbury, who “signed off and instructed me to follow that path.”

Although the LPAT ruled against all KED-related appeals, Duncanson-Hales maintains the attempt was a worthwhile endeavour.

“I only objected to the casino, and the objections where the social costs would have far outweighed any economic benefit,” he said, pointing to disproportionately high suicide rates among problem gamblers as being of central concern.

“The interests of the community are not always top of mind, and the interests of developers seem to have the ear of some of our council members more than the public they are supposed to represent.”

Still disappointed in the LPAT’s ruling, Duncanson-Hales said part of his inspiration to seek the Ward 11 seat at council chambers is to be a part of the decision-making conversation, where he will have a vote when it comes to such things as requiring socio-economic impact studies. 

During the first quarter of this fiscal year alone, Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation contributed $516,541 to the City of Greater Sudbury, an amount determined by a formula applied across all gaming sites in Ontario. 

This contribution would have only increased with the new casino the Kingsway Entertainment District had promised, Leduc said, adding, “That money helps by going into your infrastructure.”

Leduc’s campaign for re-election will centre on the importance of creating housing, without which he said “we can’t really boost our economy.”

Now that he has a challenger in Ward 11, Leduc plans on dusting off his campaign signs and blanketing the Minnow Lake neighbourhood with them as soon as candidates are allowed to on Aug. 20. 

Duncanson-Hales was a philosophy and religious studies professor at the University of Sudbury until the current financial woes of Laurentian University pushed him toward tutoring work. His campaign will focus on ways to “allow the community to flourish, both socially, culturally and economically, so that we’re really looking for and applying the principles of sustainable development to how we’re going to develop and grow.”

As for the KED, he said a lesson learned from that experience is the city needs to pursue less-divisive projects.

“Coun. Leduc can blame anyone, it doesn’t really matter, we still have to move on.”

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.