By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak is demanding the Liberals open up the secretive negotiations the province has been holding with race track owners in an attempt to keep the horse racing industry viable.
“You need an on-going, transparent partnership,” said Hudak, as he released his party’s policies on agriculture issues March 13 in Lynden.
He said the Liberals and race track owners are conducting “backroom deals that lack transparency” and are doom to failure if it means the horse racing industry has to go back to the province “cap in hand” for more funding.
In the party’s Pathways to Prosperity: Respect for Rural Ontario paper, the 12th policy document in the Tories’ proposed agenda, Hudak urged the Liberals to “shelf” the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s massive restructuring process, and instead “build upon what is already working” at race tracks around the province.
He said the province should allow race tracks, such as Flamboro Downs, to develop what is already available rather than shut it down, and relocate a game facility to another location.
“Our view is you should build upon what works, race tracks, casinos, slots,” he said. “We had a strong partnership that was working.”
Hamiltoncouncil recent approved a motion identifying Flamboro Downs as its preferred site for a gaming facility. But if that site is not financially viable, the motion stated, the facility could be relocated to another location.
Last year the OLG embarked upon restructuring its gaming facilities that it hopes will mean an additional $1.3 billion in additional revenues for the government. The province is already ending its Slots at Race Track program – saving about $345 million – that helped to finance the horse racing industry in the province. The program ends March 31.
Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne announced last week a funding deal with four race tracks that will mean less money to them, but will provide a level of “stability” for their operations.
“This kind of chaos is not helpful in building the agricultural sector, quite the opposite,” said Hudak, who represents Niagara West-Glanbrook that includes the Fort Erie race track. “It’s not going to solve our fundamental problems in the economy. Why not build upon what is working?”
Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale Tory MPP candidate Donna Skelly, who accompanied Hudak to the Joe Loewith and Sons Ltd., dairy farm, called Wynne’s announcement lacking in substance.
“It was just a glorified photo op,” said Skelly. “If you talk to any of the people who are impacted by the industry they will tell you there was no content in that announcement.”
Mohawk and Woodbine had already signed a three-year transition funding agreement for about half the money they had been receiving. There are still eight tracks to sign on, including Flamboro Downs.
The OLG and Great Canadian Gaming Corp. signed a tentative deal on March 9 that will mean keeping the slot machines at the Flamborough location for up to five years.
Slots have already been removed from Fort Erie, Sarnia and Windsor race tracks, putting about 560 people out of work.
The complicated financial arrangement involves the OLG paying rent for housing its slot machines, in addition to an unspecified top up from the province for horse racing purses.
An all-party horse racing panel, composed of Elmer Buchanan, John Snobelen, and John Wilkinson recommended last fall in their report the Slots at Race tracks program, started in 2000 during the Mike Harris Conservative government, is “poor public policy” and should not be re-instituted. But they argued the $50 million in transition funding for the horse-racing industry over three years isn’t enough to sustain the sector.
Wynne has repeatedly stated during visits to Hamilton that her government will be talking to the panel representatives for advice.