By Jessica Lovell
An announcement by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne of a transitional funding plan for the horse racing industry still leaves the industry with too much uncertainty, according to Guelph’s provincial Progressive Conservative candidate Anthony MacDonald.
“In 20 days, we have absolutely no racing in Ontario scheduled, and that is unheard of,” said MacDonald, noting the announcement was too vague to be reassuring.Wynne’s announcement was made Friday at the Grand River Raceway in Elora – a visit that MacDonald feels was more of a photo-op than an announcement.
Her message was that the government had reached tentative three-year funding agreements with four racetracks, including Grand River. But details, including funding amounts, were lacking.
“The whole thing was vague,” said MacDonald, who makes his living as harness racer.
According to the agriculture ministry, the government is following recommendations from the Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel Report by working to integrate horse racing with the provincial gaming strategy to ensure future revenue for the industry. It plans to complete agreements with interested race tracks in the coming weeks to provide transition funding for the next three years in order to ensure racing continues in Ontario, a news release said.
The report was the result of work by a panel of former cabinet ministers that was formed in response to protests against the government’s plan to end the Slots at Racetracks funding arrangement at the end of this month.
The agreement saw tracks and horse people sharing 20 per cent of the revenue from slot machines located at their facilities.
The new transitional funding arrangements will be less.
The announcement that some kind of funding arrangement had been reached to help transition tracks out of the Slots at Racetracks program was bittersweet to MacDonald.
“It was an acknowledgement that this industry drives rural Ontario and is a pillar,” he said. But, he argued, that acknowledgement has come too late.
“The Liberal government made a decision last year without doing any consultation with the industry,” he said. “What they’ve done is virtually burned down a house and then grabbed a fire extinguisher to put it out after it’s burned down.”
Many people involved in the horse racing industry have already left Canada in search of a more viable industry elsewhere, because of the uncertainty of the past year, he said.
Those that have stayed can expect their income to take a hit with tracks closing and those that remain open reducing their number of race dates. Purses can also be expected to shrink, said MacDonald.
Speaking more optimistically, he said the government’s action might have the effect of weeding out tracks that were involved in the industry only for the slot revenue – something that MacDonald believes was one of the problems with the industry.
But for those who were in it for the racing, he says the government should have done a better job of working collectively with them to come up with a better plan.
“There are numerous tracks that do want to race horses, and the government owes it to them to do the right thing,” MacDonald said.
As far as the lack of race dates for the 2013 season, which normally starts in April, MacDonald is trying to stay optimistic.
“I want to believe in 20 days, I’ll be racing the same way I was before,” he said, but added that it will probably be with some kind of reduction in income.
By Jessica Lovell