On Wednesday, October 30, Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak penned an open letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne outlining his party’s course of action for the Fort Erie Race Track and the provincial horse racing industry.
The contents of Hudak’s letter appear below.
Dear Premier Wynne,
Noting your new commitment to openness and transparency, albeit despite some serious concerns on your government’s record, let’s put the spirit of it to the test by getting something done for the people of Fort Erie and Niagara who need to retain a viable horse racing circuit.
Your government – along with the help of the NDP – made a short-sighted decision to close the slots at the Fort Erie Race Track. With barely a month’s notice, these slots were gone. The cost was thousands of lost jobs and a crippled local horse racing industry that is now on the road to closure. I was strongly opposed to that decision and remain opposed. I’m convinced it was not a wise business decision, but a knee-jerk one based purely on politics.
Fort Erie is my hometown. I was born and raised there. Back in the late ’90s, I fought hard to keep the track open by championing slots at the track as a revenue-sharing mechanism that would benefit local communities. There are ways to save that beautiful oval in Fort Erie – one which has survived two world wars and the Great Depression – and save other tracks and jobs across Ontario that are vital to their communities.
It is a three-point plan: Restore slots, form a public-private partnership with a business that knows how to run them, with accountability measures in place, and share the revenue locally.
I have fond memories of the track and I believe in its future. That’s why the Ontario PCs, and our lead critic Randy Pettapiece, have put forward a plan. It’s one that will strengthen partnerships with the job-creating horse racing industry, not tear them apart. It’s what rural Ontario, the horse racing industry and thousands of dedicated workers deserve.
The first thing we need to do is get the government out of the gambling business and acting, instead, as a tough and respected regulator. Slots should be run by businesses proficient in gaming to increase overall revenue and attract more customers to racing.
Any expansion of gaming should be at race tracks first – why not build off what is already working and successful in welcoming communities? While I believe only a Liberal government could lose money running a casino, a business case presented by experts in the field could see gaming reestablished at Fort Erie to great success.
As a condition for operating the slots, of course, the private operator would be required to share a certain percentage of slot revenue with the local horse industry, whether it be thoroughbreds, standardbreds or quarter horses. Given our current fiscal circumstances this would be more modest than it was under SARP. But the stable, long-term revenue stream would give the horse racing industry the certainty it needs to make investments and create jobs in Ontario.
In order for this to work, we need strong accountability mechanisms around how the money is used, as recommended by your government’s own Sadinsky Report in 2008. A certain percentage should be dedicated for industry-wide initiatives to ensure a growing market. This has been our plan. We put it forward in our white papers and I sat down and shared it with you during our meeting. You’re the Minister of Agriculture as well as the Premier. Will you move forward, therefore, to secure this track’s future and ensure its sustainability?
I look at everything as a way to create jobs, and to grow our economy. You seem to want to close down the tracks and toss people out of work. Let me be absolutely clear about this: I fought for that track. I fought to keep it open. I’m prepared to do so again. Are you?
Tim Hudak Ontario PC Leader