Three years ago (next month) John Gallinger was appointed Standardbred Canada’s chief executive officer and new president. His main objective then was the get harness racing in Canada to thrive and prosper.
But when the slots at racetracks programme was withdrawn from Ontario last month he was given a curve ball so serious that the employment of 60,000 people in the industry in Canada could be affected.
The 39-year-old said these were some of his most challenging times since taking office in mind-May.
“There’s no doubting that the Ontario situation affects all of Canada. The west and east coast have their own separate issues but there’s no doubting what’s happened in Ontario has affected harness racing across the board in Canada,” Gallinger told Harnesslink.
Many people had already lost their jobs, or been forced to leave the industry because of the purse and race-day permit cuts. Gallinger sympathised with those that had been forced to look outside harness racing for work.
“I am devastated that we are losing people to our industry. The Government of Ontario got ahead of themselves – making rash decisions early and then having to get a panel to verify the decision making. They jumped the gun.
“I realise people have had to supplement their incomes and look for work elsewhere, but in my opinion this should never have happened.
“I’d like to think we could lure them back one day. When you love horses I don’t think the industry ever leaves you,” Gallinger said.
Richmond Hill (On)-based Gallinger believed that in order to progress forward the national board had to now co-operate with Government rather than go against it.
“They have too many resources not to. The industry has taken a big enough hit as it is, and it is important now for Standardbred Canada to wait see what unfolds.
“There are still many more questions to be asked. One thing we must do is co-operate importantly and listen to the people in all of our regions so that we ultimately have one common direction,” said Gallinger.
The former chartered accountant, who has a Masters degree in accounting from the University of Waterloo, insisted slots were not a fix for the industry.
As an industry we need to embrace, protect, and grow these partnerships for the mutual benefit of all stakeholders. Slots programs have certainly been beneficial to our industry, but I think it needs to be about more than just increasing purses and funding horse improvement/breeding programs.
“We have to continually look at ways to upgrade our services and drive up revenue. There are so many positives in our industry and we just have to act on them.
“But it is important that we echo the voice of the people. And we need to have unity and act as one. That is why we support OHIRA,” Gallinger said.
OHIRA is the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association. It has represented the horse racing industry in Ontario for more than 18 years. OHRIA is a non-profit organization.
OHRIA currently represents 21 paying member associations and tracks and the OHRIA Board consists of eight representatives from standardbred, thoroughbred, and quarter horse racing.
So will harness racing in Canada be okay? Gallinger replied:
“We will be alright but we will be different. We have been through hard times before and bounced back.
“That is not to underplay the big hit the industry has already taken but we will always have a professional product on offer here in Canada.
“We just have to wait and see what unfolds and then start acting.”