Ontario Conservative Senator Bob Runciman hosted a media conference on Saturday, July 21 at Georgian Downs to highlight the negative economic impacts and significant job losses that will come from the Ontario Liberal government’s decision to end the Slots-At-Racetracks program next March.
“This is ill thought out,” stated Runciman of the decision to end the profitable Slots-At-Racetracks program. “They talk about the Drummond Report, but Drummond doesn’t recommend what is happening. He recommended a review. To blindside the industry without looking at the impacts is unbelievable. We’re going to see bankruptcies and horses euthanized.”
Runciman went on to voice his concerns regarding the $50 million transitional fund allocated by the provincial government for the horse racing industry to help displaced workers find new jobs and training. A panel consisting of former cabinet ministers Elmer Buchanan, John Snobelen and John Wilkinson is in the process of conducting consultations with the industry to determine how the transition funds will be used.
“People think this transition committee will do something, but they won’t,” said Runciman. “I think this merits a non-confidence motion in the legislature. How can a government lose 30,000 jobs without a cost benefit analysis?”
“We’re talking about a loss of a minimum of 30,000 jobs and the Liberals think they’ll find other jobs?” added Simcoe North MPP Garfield Dunlop. “The Liberals made a decision to kill this industry and that’s what they’re doing.”
During the conference, Runciman also stated that the horse racing industry needs to take stronger actions.
“I’m critical of the industry,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve done enough. They should be talking to people that understand government and not expensive PR firms…They need to start running effective advertising. They haven’t even used social media, which doesn’t cost you anything. There are so many opportunities in social media and for someone who loves the industry it’s very frustrating.
“I don’t know if they don’t want to play hardball, but they need to play hardball,” he added.
Hector Clouthier, a former MP and longtime supporter of the horse racing industry, also spoke at the media conference.
“I personally know the Premier and the Finance Minister and I figured quiet diplomacy would work, but I hit a brick wall,” he said.
The former executive director of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association (OHRIA) echoed Runciman’s call to raise awareness of the issue amongst the general public.
“We in the industry haven’t done a good job. I don’t think the majority of Ontario residents understand the gravity of the situation,” said Clouthier. “We’ve got to get out there and be more proactive and make the public aware of what is happening.”
Hector also commented on the government’s interest in revitalizing bingo halls — a partnership less profitable for the government in comparison to the 75 per cent of revenues it receives from the Slots-At-Racetracks program.
“Look at the Bingo deal,” he said. “The operators are getting 47 per cent of revenues and if you look at the personalities involved, you see that horse manure starts smelling sweet.”