Ontario Liberal Party leadership candidates speak out on safeguarding province's horse racing and breeding industry

TORONTO, Dec. 21, 2012 /CNW/ - Five of the seven candidates to succeed Premier Dalton McGuinty as leader of the Ontario Liberal Party and Premier have made videotaped statements undertaking to safeguard the future of the province's imperiled horse racing and breeding industry.

The future of the industry, and of the 55,000 full-time and part-time jobs that it provides primarily in rural Ontario, has been thrown into question by the McGuinty government's abrupt decision earlier this year to withdraw slot machines from the province's racetracks, ending a successful partnership that has helped to financially sustain the industry while providing revenues to the Ontario government.

"It's very encouraging that so far five of the seven people who have a chance to lead the Ontario Liberal Party and become Premier starting in January are publicly showing their understanding of how important the horse racing and breeding industry is to the lives of hard-working people in rural Ontario," says Racing Future president and founder Dennis Mills, a Toronto business executive and former long-serving Liberal Member of Parliament who is spearheading efforts to raise public awareness of the issue, particularly in urban areas.

At an all-candidates' round table on rural issues held in Avonmore, Ontario on December 18, Racing Future invited the six attending leadership candidates - all except Harinder Takhar who was not present -  to make a videotaped statement of their respective views about the future of the successful partnership between the horse racing and breeding racing and OLG that had existed before the McGuinty government announced its end. The following are the key points that they made in their respective statements.

Charles Sousa: "The industry is critical to Ontario, so obviously critical to many families. We're one of the best horse breeding industries anywhere in the world. It also makes Ontario even that much more special when we have such an important horse racing and breeding industry. It's also nice that it energizes communities all over the province. For that reason, it's important that we continue to make the horse racing industry sustainable, to make the horse breeding industry sustainable…. We need to find ways to make it work. I look forward to doing that."

Gerard Kennedy: "I think that this one of the decisions that the government's made that it has to not just review, because it has been doing that, but understand that it came about in a manner that can't be the best outcome and there has to be a way of us making decisions with communities with full outlook in terms of what the impacts are going to be and how we mitigate the consequences. And so I think that there's a better accommodation to be made…. I fully support that there be a better outcome than the one that seemed to be imminent with the decision to remove the revenue from slots from the racetracks. I want to see that there is a viable industry. I want to see that the government participates in a better transition than we've already talked about.. As Premier, I will take an interest in that."

Glen Murray: "I think the entire strategy with Ontario Lottery and Gaming has to be rethought both in rural and urban areas. There are some real problems, I think, with some of the directions that we're going in, and some of it has negative impacts both on the rural economy and on the horse industry….. I think it's time that we press the pause button and we really go back and look at the mathematics on this. I've met with Racing Future, Dennis Mills sat down with me, and I've been becoming increasingly convinced that something has to be done."

Eric Hoskins: "Not only [do] I affirm just how important our horse racing and horse breeding sector is to Ontario's economy, to Ontario's social fabric… we need to commit to going forward. I commit to doing this in the first 60 days of my mandate as Premier, in fact, because I understand the urgency. With the decisions that have been made in the past, we really need to work on this as a matter of top priority. So I commit in the first 60 days of being Premier that I would review the sector, ensure that it becomes and is a full part of Ontario's gambling strategy…. and work toward in that 60-day review creating a sustainable horse racing sector and horse breeding sector that recognizes its economic contribution to this province…. There needs to be, in any jurisdiction around the world that has a vibrant horse racing sector … permanent partnership and permanent support from its government."

Kathleen Wynne: "I believe that this has been a real trauma for the rural communities and for the horse racing industry, and so my commitment is to work with the community so that we have a sustainable horse racing industry based on the report of the transition panel and I think that that's the starting point for this discussion. I've also committed to taking on the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs as my own as Premier for up to a year because I think that this issue and others in rural Ontario need the focus of the Premier."

Sandra Pupatello, leaving the round table early, declined to make a videotaped statement, saying that she was late for a meeting. She referred us to her rural platform which, in reference to horse racing, states that she "support[s] the recommendations of the Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel."

A full video of the candidates' statements on the future of the Ontario horse racing and breeding industry can be seen on the Racing Future website, http://www.racingfuture.com/ .

Meanwhile, the Ontario NDP has taken virtually the same position as Racing Future on the McGuinty government's plan to terminate the slot machine partnership with Ontario racetracks. In a statement by the party's economic development critic, Essex MPP Taras Natyshak, (published in full at www.racingfuture.com) the NDP says that "the government should immediately freeze the removal of slot machines from racetracks across Ontario. They should continue the SARP program until 2014, so that the horse-racing industry can continue to operate while the government works directly with the industry to find a real solution to this crisis, to guarantee the long-term viability of the industry." 

Natyshak says on behalf of the NDP in the statement: The McGuinty Liberals' decision to end the slots-at-racetracks program (SARP), without any consultation or negotiation, has sent the horse-racing industry reeling. The future existence of the industry in Ontario is in jeopardy. This once-world-class and vibrant industry which contributes a total of $1.5 billion in wages and salaries to Ontario's economy has since taken quite a hit. We've already seen almost 1,000 jobs lost and 50,000 more jobs are on the line. On top of the economic and jobs impacts, owners are left with no choice by to put down some of their race horses. They've dropped in value so much that owners can no longer afford to carry the costs of feeding and maintaining them." 

Ontario Progressive Conservative Party Leader Tim Hudak, on the other hand, proposes to privatize OLG (Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation), saying:

          Gambling is a legitimate activity, but the government of Ontario should not be in the business of actively promoting it to help balance the budget. There is an inherent contradiction in the government being the regulator and also the day-to-day operator. We should move to wind down the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, getting government out of the gambling business.

Private operators are not interested in meeting public policy objectives: privatizing the OLG is a move that would leave the horse racing and breeding industry entirely at the mercy of private corporations.

SOURCE: Racing Future Inc.

For further information:

Dennis Mills, 416-587-1716 or visit us at RacingFuture.com.

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