by BETTER FARMING STAFF
The president of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association found much that was positive in an interim report Friday afternoon by a panel of former provincial government ministers appointed to look into the Liberal government’s controversial March decision to cancel the long-standing Slots at Racetracks Program.
Sue Leslie says “for the most part” the interim report was positive. “We would like to have seen it go further,” Leslie says.
The negative side of the report is that it may not give trainers enough confidence to bid on animals at the annual yearling auctions coming up next week. “Breeders already took the butt end of this. They are getting annihilated right now,” Leslie says.
Reinstatement of the Slots at Racetracks Program would be a mistake, says the report which was released on Friday. But the panel also found that $50 million over three years isn’t nearly enough to ensure a successful transition for the province’s race track industry because it will be experiencing a 63 per cent loss in income. The authors are former minister of varying political stripes; NDPer Elmer Buchanan, Progressive Conservative John Snobelen, and Liberal John Wilkinson.
In a statement released Friday, Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin insists that the old program costs taxpayers $345 million a year, and calls it “poor public policy.” The province continues to focus on balancing its budget “while protecting vital services that families rely on, like health care and education,” Buchanan says.
The horse racing industry “needs to display financial transparency,” McMeekin’s statement says.
“The government needs to forge a new partnership with the industry and keep it as part of the gaming strategy,” Leslie says. She expects that government and industry will negotiate a new strategy over the next six weeks.
Mark Wales, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture agrees. The report says the industry “is too important to let go,” he says. It represents $2-2.5 billion of economic activity annually. People “are making fairly drastic decisions,” he says. “The industry has got to evolve and that has got to happen quickly,” he says.
McMeekin expects to receive a final report on the slots issue by the end of September. The panel was announced in early June.
A summary of the report is available at http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/about/transition/interimreport08172012.htm#summary BF