The nod of approval has been given by city council to the casino project in Lloydminster.
During Monday’s session of council, the motion on the agenda for the gathered councillors was to approve, or not approve, the use of a casino on the lands owned by Little Pine First Nation in the east end of the city. The approval was subject to the development meeting a list of conditions listed in the agenda documents, with the first being all further development on the lands in question requiring further permits.
The application for the use of a casino was made by the Border Tribal Council on May 10, 2016, and the public was invited to weigh in on the decision via letters sent to the municipal government, and two public presentations were made at Monday’s meeting prior to the council members discussing the casino decision.
The first was from Pastor Tim Acey and Archdeacon Michael Stonhouse of the Lloydminster Ministerial Association, speaking in opposition to the project on moral grounds, and calling for a plebiscite on the matter. The second was from Chief Wayne Semaganis of Little Pine First Nation, speaking in favour of the project, outlining what he sees as benefits for both his people and Lloydminster.
Council then had a chance to debate the choice before them. Through the course of the discussion around the table, it became apparent that councillors Linnea Goodhand, Chris McQuid, and Jason Whiting, along with Lloydminster mayor Rob Saunders, were in favour of approving the permit that afternoon.
Councillors Ken Baker, Larry Sauer, and Lachlan Cummine were more cautious, and supported a motion which would have seen the decision moved off the council agenda, while speaking about the public feedback they had been receiving about the idea of a casino in the community, and the need for more public discussion.
Despite the heated debate and the call for a plebiscite from the Ministerial Association, the motion to approve the permit passed 4-3. However, the attitude around the council table had been made clear, with Goodhand, Whiting, McQuid and Mayor Saunders all speaking about the positive economic implications of the casino, while Cummine, Baker, and Sauer were seeking more public input.
“I think it’s good that we have a chance to hear why people are for it and why people are against it,” said Goodhand.
“The challenge is that it was a development permit application, it was not a decision about the morality of gambling, it was not a decision about whether the city should support or reject a casino, it was whether Border Tribal Council has met its obligation, and has been compliant with all the steps.”
Goodhand said the project will now go ahead on the timeline of the Border Tribal Council, and council had been informed by the Planning and Engineering department that the development was on-track. In addition, she expressed hope that residents had moved past the question of whether or not a casino would be good for the city.
“We will not have a referendum about whether this is a good idea or a bad idea, we’re moving forward,” said Goodhand.
Saunders also spoke on the topic following the council meeting, and said community consultation will still have to take place, as it is mandated by provincial guidelines. He also said the urban reserve status of the lands the casino is slated for is not yet resolved, as it is a federal matter, and that the municipal government has no say on the employment policies of the casino.
“Their goal is to provide opportunities for their people, and that encompasses the whole community and the region,” said Saunders.
“Their plan calls for a huge development, that would create many jobs and opportunities for many people.”
Semaganis, speaking to the press after the meeting, described the casino approval process as a series of hurdles, and spoke about the vision that Little Pine First Nation and investors in the project have in mind.
“Most people are used to 100 metre hurdles, I’m running the 1000 metre hurdles for my community,” said Semaganis.
Semaganis described the casino as a “hinge” for further projects, and said Little Pine will be hoping to add houses and apartment buildings to the lands in the east end in future, to act as housing for the casino employees. He also said there had been discussion with businesses such as Costco and Peterbilt to do with the southern part of the lot where the casino project will be located.
A concept plan of the casino outlines two 100-bed hotels, along with a convention centre and “multi-purpose” space included as part of the complex. Semaganis said the name of the project will be the Eagle West Park, encompassing 18 acres.
As for outside investment in the project, Semaganis confirmed the involvement of Onion Lake Cree Nation in the casino, which had previously been indicated by public statements made by Chief Wallace Fox. He said the bands of Witchekan Lake, Pelican Lake, Big River, Poundmaker, Sweetgrass, Thunderchild, Lucky Man Cree Nation, and Beardy’s & Okemasis Willow Cree First Nation, among others, are also investors in the casino.
While the project has received the approval of city council, Semaganis could not outline a firm timeline for when construction might begin.
“It’ll be a bit yet,” said Semaganis.
“There’s processes that we have to meet with the City, with our engineering people. Whatever permits that we require, we’ll have to get those in place first.”