The show will go on.
Hundreds of speakers came out to Surrey City Hall Monday night to voice their position on a controversial casino complex proposed for South Surrey in a public hearing that will continue later this week.
Stretching on well into the wee hours of Tuesday morning, the public hearing saw a large turnout of both supporters and opponents of the project, with both sides hoping to convince council to either finally push the project through or reject it entirely. However, with so many registered to speak, council decided to recess the hearing until Friday, Jan. 18 after hearing from just 72 speakers. The decision was made at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, in order to allow everyone a fair chance at speaking their minds without having to stay out any later.
Starting Monday evening, council heard from Joanne Charles of the Semiahmoo First Nation, who expressed her band's frustration with not being adequately consulted prior to this project moving forward.
"We cannot be in favour of this project nor can we be against it because we have not had the opportunity to have this fully considered against our Aboriginal Rights and Titles," said Charles. "Consultation is a pretty easy process and we are waiting to engage and we haven't had that opportunity to do so."
Charles also expressed that the project may cause an "amazing economic loss" for the band, as they had also expressed interest in building similar facilities, which would be rendered moot if Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Limited beat them to it.
While there were just under 200 registered to speak, with 75 in opposition and 112 in favour of the project, as the hours dragged on, would-be speakers had to turn in before getting their chance to voice their opinions.
For casino opponent Terry McNiece, president of the South Surrey Ratepayer's Association, the public hearing process, while tedious, was a good chance for people to finally have their say directly to council.
"I think council is going to get a good feel for how the community feels, it's a good reflection on what actual residents think about this," said McNiece.
On the opposition side, a mixture of young and old, mostly residents of the area, either claimed the project was simply being put in the wrong place, or was wrong for Surrey entirely.
Gary Xie, a Grade 11 student at Semiahmoo Secondary, said he feels a casino in the area would destroy the area he's come to love having grown up in it.
"I came to South Surrey looking for a peaceful neighbourhood and I found it here," said Xie to mayor and council. "You can't find anything like this in the Lower Mainland and surely we can do better than that. A casino is the quickest way to get cash but not the best way."
One opponent wondered where the residents in favour of the proposal were, as the majority of those speaking in favour seemed to have a business interest in project.
"Where are the local residents in favour of this proposal?" he asked. "We haven't heard from those people yet."
Susan Lindenberger urged council to listen to their constituents over the interest of businesses.
"We just recently watched Lincoln and he listened, not just to money and muscle, but to ordinary people, the people who elected him for a second term," she said. "We are tired of listening to the half truths spun by those who would foist this casino unto us."
In favour was a steady line of Surrey-based Gateway and BCLC employees, as well as business owners who would benefit from having such a proposal built in South Surrey.
Mark Olsen, business manager for the Labourers Union, said he was in full support of the proposal as it would mean not only more amenities for him as a resident of South Surrey, but work for those in his union.
"In my view, as a South Surrey resident, development is needed in any area including South Surrey," said Olsen. "We need an 800-seat theatre so we can enjoy the theatre close to home and...(we need the work) on behalf of the 600 (union) members in Surrey, many of which will work on the project."
Craig McDougall, a proponent who did not seem to have a vested interest in the casino being built, said he was in complete favour of the casino being built in Surrey. A longtime Langley resident himself, McDougall said he's seen all of the issues brought up by opponents - the increase in crime, drug abuse, gambling addiction - in Langley long before a casino arrived in the area.
"All these things that are going to come, they exist now, they existed when I grew up, they exist in affluent neighbourhoods," said McDougall. "But with a casino, it gives people something to gravitate to, as this is what caused it."
For McDougall, who now runs a small business across from Cascades, he sees the benefits that a casino entertainment complex can offer the residents of Surrey.
"If I can go out for a nice night once every six months with my wife, be it gambling, for a drink or a wedding party at the casino within walking distance where don't have to drive drunk, that's a good thing," he said. "I'm here to say I've lived the opposite of what people say will happen. These (issues) are not created (by casinos), they exist."
Finally, Bill Reid, executive director of the Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce, said the casino makes sense for Surrey as it created the jobs needed for an area seeing such big residential growth.
"You can't keep bringing in residents without providing them jobs," said Reid, noting that the Fraser Downs casino has been nothing but positive for Cloverdale. "We don't have crime in Cloverdale right now. This is long overdue, do it right and let's bring this to South Surrey."
The public hearing will continue Friday evening at 7 p.m. Surrey council is expected make their decision on moving forward with the gaming application following that meeting.
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