CAMPBELLVILLE, ON, Sept. 16, 2019 /CNW/ - On the eve of the International Plowing Match that starts on Tuesday in Verner, Ont., the Ontario Harness Horse Association (OHHA), is condemning the Ford government amidst the association's struggle with Ontario Racing for accountability, funding and representation.
Ontario Racing, the provincially appointed industry association, is increasingly dominated by privately owned Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG), and OHHA President James Whelan says he is deeply disappointed and frustrated with the government and its abandonment of rural Ontario traditions and values.
"During the election, the Progressive Conservative government made all kinds of noises about supporting and promoting the economic viability and growth of rural Ontario in general, and the horseracing industry, specifically.
In fact Premier Doug Ford counselled OHHA, which represents thousands of harness horsepeople, to not sign the long term funding agreement and promised that help was on the way. Now that they're in power – thanks largely to the support of rural Ontario – they've turned their backs on our industry and the livelihoods of countless thousands of rural Ontarians."
The Liberal government committed over $2 billion over 20 years to Ontario's horse racing industry through Ontario Racing, which distributes the funds. Some 62 employees earning over $100,000 at WEG and its two racetracks appear on the Sunshine List – including WEG CEO Jim Lawson, who made over $751,000 in 2018. In 2017/2018 salaries at WEG racetracks exceeded $70 million dollars.
"Last April, Ontario Racing ceased funding OHHA because of our concerns about funding decisions, particularly the money handed over to WEG," said Whelan. "Our fears only grew when we saw the Sunshine List. How much of those whopping salaries has come from funds no longer going to our rural members who struggle just to survive? This transfer of income from salt-of-the-earth Ontarians to Etobicoke bigwigs is disgraceful."
"Recently, Great Canadian Gaming Corp. received capital improvement funds from taxpayers to improve the racetrack at Flamboro Downs. Instead, they used the money to shut anyone under the age of 19 out of the facility.
"Children who accompany their parents to the races have been thrown out onto to an uncovered tarmac so that slot machines can be the prime gaming interest at the racetrack," said Whelan. "How does eliminating our future fan base and inconveniencing families help grow our industry? I thought families were important to this government.
"Ontario racing has redirected purse funds away from the democratically elected horse persons association, OHHA, to a shadow representation organization called COSA – the Central Ontario Standardbred Association – which is a Woodbine-based group of lackeys and yes men," he added. "They have no connection to rural Ontario. In fact, their so-called constitution doesn't allow caretakers, 60 per cent of whom are women, the right to vote on issues or representation.
"OHHA is the one horsepersons representative that cares about horses, our rural communities and our way of life," said Whelan. "A democratic vote on representation is the only way to move forward on this file. Doug Ford can make this happen. If he doesn't, I can assure the Premier that rural folks have long memories. There's a whole province outside of Toronto. Hopefully, rural MPPs and our AWOL agricultural minister will not abandon the roots of the party."
SOURCE Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)
For further information: Brian Tropea, General Manager, Ontario Harness Horse Association, 905-854-6442, [email protected]