Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynn has asked the horse racing transition panel to come up with a five-year plan for the industry in its next report, but some of the province's top stallions won't be around to see that, says a Hamilton advocate for local horse owners.
Many owners have downsized or move out of the country altogether, said Brian Tropea, general manager of the Ontario Harness Horse Association. "Regardless of what the panel's report comes up with, there's already been a lot of damage to the industry and it'll be interesting to see if people reinvest in the industry or not," he told CBC Hamilton on Wednesday.
'If we lost 9,000 jobs in any other section of the economy, there would be an outrage. But because this is a rural issue, there doesn’t seem to have got the coverage than other industries'—Brian Tropea, general manager of the Ontario Harness Horse Association
In a letter sent to the three-person transition panel on Tuesday, Wynn, writing as the minister of agriculture of food, asked the panel to provide a "comprehensive Five Year Plan" for the period of April 2014 to March 2019, including:
- Distributing the proposed minimum 800 race days for all three categories of racing.
- Recommending a governance structure for the industry and how Ontario Racing Commission can work with industry associations.
- Suggesting a specific amount of government investment for the industry.
Wynn stressed that she requires "specific recommendations" in the upcoming report.
"We are now in the home stretch. I look forward to seeing you at the finish line," Wynn wrote.
The racing industry has been in a state of flux since last March, when the province ended its Slots at Racetracks (SARP) program, which saw a percentage of slot revenue used to fund race winnings.
Industry in 'significant crisis'
Tropea cited a report by the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association, which blames the termination of the SARP program for creating "a significant crisis" in the industry. The report suggests more than 3,000 horse owners have left the industry since 2011, representing the loss of $1 billion in investment. Within the same period, 9,000 jobs were also lost.
"If we lost 9,000 jobs in any other section of the economy, there would be an outrage," Tropea said. "But because this is a rural issue, there doesn’t seem to have got the coverage than other industries."
Tropea said many Ontario horse owners have relocated to the U.S. Others are also no longer bringing horses into the province.
"Rather than attracting that foreign investment, we are now taking our money and spending it in the U.S.," he said.
The OHRIA could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Although Tropea is disappointed about reduced racing opportunities, he said the premier is taking "a completely difference position" than her predecessors.
"She wants to see a sustainable industry. Her definition of sustainability and ours might be quite different, but at least she is sitting down working with the industry," he said.
The panel’s final report is expected in early October.
Reprintd with permission by www.cbc.ca