Saddle up for Ontario’s newest budget

Cassidy McNea
By Cassidy McNea April 20, 2018 14:38

A horseback rider from Waters Edge Equestrian Centre practices riding on horse, Harmony.(Photo by: Lauren O’Brien)

 

The province of Ontario has announced it will provide long-term funding to the horse racing industry in an effort to help save jobs for horse owners and breeders.

A news release from the Ministry of Finance outlined an agreement which will provide the horse sector with $105 million a year for up to 19 years. The ministry said this agreement will support jobs in rural Ontario and strengthen local economies across the province.

This funding is set to become effective April 1, 2019.

The Minister of Finance, Charles Sousa, said this agreement will support the long-term sustainability of horse racing in Ontario.

“This funding will encourage economic development in rural communities across the province while giving racetracks and breeders an opportunity to build a strong future for an industry that is central to our heritage,” said Sousa.

This agreement will replace the previous Horse Racing Partnership Funding Program, a five-year plan meant to invest up to $500 million.

In 2012, the Windsor Raceway, a horse racing track in Windsor, was closed due to lack of government funding and the cancellation of the province’s Slots at Racetracks program.

Donna Wright, who previously worked at Windsor Raceway as a switchboard operator, said horse racing provided a big boost to the city’s economy. She said the closure of the track was devastating and was about more than people losing the opportunity to gamble, it also meant many lost jobs.

I can not stress enough the devastating impact on the Liberal government’s poor judgment and with no research or consideration of the Standardbred racing industry,” said Wright. “The Ontario Harness Horsemen Association went to a Windsor city council meeting to get some answers and to stress what impact closing the track would do and I witnessed council expressing that they had no knowledge of what was to take place. They were going to be left holding the bag, so to speak.  No one would help the horsemen.”

At the time former Windsor Tecumseh MPP Dwight Duncan said he was advised only five or six horse racing tracks in Ontario would survive. As of now, Ontario is home to 15 racetracks, which is more than any other North American jurisdiction.

Tom Bain, the mayor of Lakeshore, owns four horses himself and said he believes there is room for growth in the horse racing industry and with support from the provincial government the industry will thrive.

Bain said as of now he is unsure how the new funding will affect horse racing in Windsor-Essex County.

“It is a mystery. We don’t know how much we are going to get,” said Bain. “It is a lump sum. I am glad to hear the money is there but the fact that the Woodbine Entertainment Group is controlling the racing that needs to be seen as how much of that money we are going to get.”

Bain is a member of the Lakeshore Horse Racing Association. The group recently built a new horse racing facility for Windsor-Essex with support from the local community.

The new facility, Leamington Raceway, set betting records last year, surpassing London and   had an all-time high in attendance.

The group said they had a goal of making horse racing a reality in Southwestern Ontario and considered themselves a group of people who “know we can.” They said they hope to promote positive change and growth to the harness horse industry in Ontario.

Wright said she now attends the new raceway and enjoys the county fair atmosphere Leamington provides. She said, many people working at the track are volunteers and give their time to a sport they love.

Cassidy McNea
By Cassidy McNea April 20, 2018 14:38

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