Below is the transcript of the debate that occurred yesterday on MPP Lisa MacLeod’s motion in support of the horse racing industry in Ontario. The motion passed by majority during a voice vote. Thank you to MPP MacLeod and all the speakers who expressed support for the industry from all sides of the house.
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: I move that, in the opinion of this House, Ontario’s Auditor General must review the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.’s new gaming plans, including its revenue and expenditure projections, mental health and addictions impact and its effect on Ontario’s horse racing industry, and further that a referendum take place in any affected municipality where the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. is proposing a new casino in order for the community to determine whether it is welcome or not.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Pursuant to standing order 98, the member has 12 minutes for her presentation.
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. This day has been a long time coming for me, particularly since the last Ontario budget had indicated that it was going to have a new approach, through the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., for gaming in our province.
I want to acknowledge the many people who have arrived here today in support of this resolution. They come from across Ontario, as far away as Ottawa, my home community, as well as Sarnia, Wingham—they’re here from everywhere, because they’re as concerned as I am, and as many are in this House, that we’re proceeding on a radical shift in gaming in Ontario without all of the information.
There are a number of issues I want to talk about in the very short period of time I have to address this. I want to talk about gaming and its impact on mental health and addictions, and the accessibility that might occur if we’re to proceed very quickly without due diligence on increasing gaming in downtown locations.
I want to talk about the horse racing industry, and the impact it’s going to have on 60,000 jobs across Ontario for hard-working, everyday people who probably never really wanted to come to Queen’s Park in their life but now feel that their entire livelihood is at stake.
Finally, Speaker, I want to talk a little bit about oversight and the requirement for it at the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. We’ve talked about it many times here in this assembly because, as we all know, over the years they’ve had quite a few troubles, spanning three different governments from three different political parties. I don’t think, when we’re talking about taxpayer dollars, we’re talking about people’s jobs and we’re talking about mental health and addiction, that we shouldn’t have that conversation right here.
Speaker, I represent Nepean–Carleton, as you know. It is the largest riding in the city of Ottawa, both in population and geography. In fact, recently the government of Canada announced that my riding would be split in two in the next federal election, due to its population. What does that really mean? It means I’ve got a strong urban and suburban component, but I also have a very large, vibrant and wonderful agricultural community.
When I first became the MPP for Nepean–Carleton in 2006, I became very well acquainted with an institution that turned 50 years old this year, the Rideau Carleton Raceway. I started going there for community events. I must admit, I’m not a gambler or wagerer myself. I’m a cheap Scot. My last name’s MacLeod. I’m probably the stereotype. But I do go to the track quite a bit because, no matter what night of the week it is, you can go to the Rideau Carleton Raceway and you can find a community organization raising money for a night at the races. Then, as the winter and the fall became time for our spring session, the Gloucester Fair would host its annual agricultural traditional fair at the Rideau Carleton Raceway.
What I learned about this institution is it was much more than just about slots. It had everything to do with a tradition and a culture that is vibrant right across this great province. It’s there because farmers have embraced it. It’s there because people from the cities find it a refreshing way to spend a Sunday afternoon, to see a traditional agricultural event.
I came to know that the Rideau Carleton Raceway was much more than just slots and horses. There were people behind those horses. They were breeders. They were horse racers. They were big animal veterinarians. They were farmers who raised oats and hay. There were young people putting themselves through Carleton University and the University of Ottawa waiting tables. I’d be ashamed to see 1,000 of those jobs wiped away in Nepean–Carleton because the Rideau Carleton Raceway isn’t viable anymore.
So, Mr. Speaker, in that vein, I became very concerned in March. In fact, I was at an airport with my daughter and I ran into Dalton McGuinty after this had been announced, and I remember my daughter ran over to him to talk to him. As you know, his riding is next door. She knows who he is. She knows who Tim Hudak is, and Andrea Horwath, and she thinks Andrea is prettier than both of them.
She ran over to talk to him, and I remember I couldn’t bring myself to talk to him because I was so concerned about this issue. I whipped off a quick email to my colleagues talking about what we needed to talk about with respect to this gaming plan, because there’s another piece to this puzzle.
After gaming became easily accessible in my native Nova Scotia, I had a family member who became extraordinarily, extremely addicted to gaming and lost her shirt. Then that went to the next generation and it happened to her son. I saw first-hand what accessibility to gaming can do to a family and a community when it is not done properly.
So the other issue I have with this—and I think it really is required that we have a debate. We have to have a public debate to have that conversation about downtown casinos and how that will impact our communities regarding mental health and addiction. Are those resources there?
The best person to do that is the Auditor General, and I want to talk about the Auditor General for a moment. We know, for example, that he’s done in recent years a couple of reports on the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. We know, for example, that that agency has had massive challenges with its own expenses for its employees, but also with how it was dealing with its risk assessments.
In a report not too long ago, the Auditor General said that “commission inspectors at three of the four gaming facilities we tested were unable to complete their goal of inspecting all slot machines, and gaming audit and compliance inspectors were also behind schedule in verifying that gaming facilities were in compliance with approval requirements and their internal control manuals. The commission needed to improve its risk assessments to allow it to focus more of its audit inspection staff on higher-risk gaming facilities and less on lower-risk facilities.”
What’s it’s saying there, Speaker—and I think you would agree with me—is that a higher-risk facility is going to be a downtown casino; a lower-risk facility is going to be a place where they have been gaming and wagering for 50 years because it’s as much a part of its culture and tradition as it is about gaming.
Speaker, I can’t tell you enough how concerning this is to me that just two years ago, the Auditor General was saying that the OLG wasn’t meeting its compliance demands then. What are they going to do when they bring in MGM and all of these other big casinos like Caesars and put them into Ottawa and into Belleville without doing their due diligence? That’s a debate and discussion we have to have here, and it’s one that can be best informed by the Auditor General.
I can’t say enough that there are social risks, and the auditor has spoken about this previously as well. He says, “Social risks need to be managed to ensure that customers gamble responsibly within their limits to avoid dire financial and family consequences, and to prevent criminal elements from exploiting casinos with illegal activities such as money laundering and loansharking, and from controlling goods-and-services supply chains used by casinos.” He also says that the full-time presence of the OPP must be at all casinos.
Speaker, I think this is very prophetic in that the Auditor General, in his review a few years ago, looked into some of the concerns that we are now having across Ontario. As I was saying to one of my colleagues in the NDP just today—and I’m proud that they have decided to support this resolution, and I thank them for that—it almost seems that in the political system, particularly here in the Ontario Legislature, we can’t fill these galleries for a public discussion until someone’s livelihood is at stake, and we don’t have that conversation, that full public debate, that full-blown discussion of how to proceed on a very important piece of legislation.
I know many colleagues will reiterate my concerns over the horse racing industry, and I want to thank those who came to Queen’s Park from all over Ontario today to be here, because I share their concerns. I share their fears.
In the recent report by the transition panel, we were told that 13,000 horses would have to be killed. They said that if the slots are removed from the racetracks, the racetracks wouldn’t have a viable business plan. They’ve had a revenue-sharing arrangement for over a decade that has been successful. At the beginning, the slots actually cannibalized the horse racing industry; now there’s a mutually beneficial partnership that’s being taken away. What is at stake? Well, basically, $1.2 billion in revenue that goes to pay for our schools and our hospitals and to keep the lights on in this place. What’s at stake? Some 60,000 jobs, 1,000 in the city of Ottawa alone, and for what? Five hundred for a casino downtown, with all of the risks that we haven’t debated here in this assembly?
Speaker, I urge all of my colleagues to stand here today—there may be elements you like or don’t like in this motion, but at the end of the day, we are the guardians of the public purse and we are the guardians of public discourse in Ontario. It is up to us to ask the tough questions. It is up to us to make sure that those charged with legislative duties in this assembly can carry them out. That’s why I think the best way to proceed with these new plans by OLG—with the consequences that we know are there—is to ask Ontario’s auditor to review those plans, to look at the human impact, to look at the economic impact and to look at what it’s going to do to jobs that are already out there in Ontario, because that’s what we owe to Ontario residents.
I will say one final thing in the time I have left. A few months ago, my colleague Lisa Thompson had a motion here in the assembly, and I saw this assembly divide on a rural-and-urban divide. I don’t want that to happen, Speaker. I think this is an issue that is important to every single Ontarian, and I appeal to all members here today to appeal back to every single Ontarian. Thank you very much. I appreciate your support.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Further debate? The member for Essex.
Mr. Taras Natyshak: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. From the outset, I want to inform you that I’ll be sharing my time with some of my colleagues here, so, whatever is left over, they will decide how to split that up.
It’s a pleasure to join the debate today, one that has been ongoing since, really, the beginning of the session, the first session of this House, somewhere back in October last year.
The government made a drastic decision without any input from the majority of the stakeholders that are intimately involved in this industry. Who are those stakeholders, Mr. Speaker? They are the rural families in our communities, the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters who work in this wonderful industry, a historic industry for this province, one that’s so special. In fact, if you look at it, it’s special in the sense that it can’t be outsourced. It can’t be offshored to another jurisdiction. These are good-paying, tangible, regional jobs with good skills, and wholesome, too, as well. They identify our regions as being special. That’s why, again, they are so special to us in this caucus, those of us who live in rural ridings and represent rural ridings, because we know how much they mean to the people but also to the economy, that interconnectedness with not only those who work directly in the industry, the veterinarians, the farriers, the farmers, the feed suppliers, all of those who work at the track, but also the truck sales, the equipment sales, the heavy equipment—all the aspects of this industry that come into play that make it such an important part of our economy.
That’s why today I am pleased to stand with the member from Nepean–Carleton to support her bill. One of the things I’ve learned, as a new member, is to look at the intent of each bill as it enters into this House and into the chamber. I see the intent as being fair, infusing some real measures of scrutiny and accountability through the Auditor General to expand the powers, expand the oversight, of the AG to look at the direction of the OLG and where they’re heading. That’s, I guess, why we’re talking about this and why we think this decision, overall, has been made.
The economic rationale, to date, has not been made and not been fully nuanced, at least for myself and members of this side of the opposition. No one here understands the economic decision that has been made, unless—and I’ve learned something else: that when nothing else makes sense, follow the money. It’s very basic. We see that there are forces outside of our traditional gaming entities that are pursuing a direction of full privatization, of eliminating the government’s intervention, the government’s responsibility and the government’s benefit from gaming in Ontario. We see it happening in the bingo halls. We see it happening with large casino magnates who are making overtures in terms of bidding on licences that have been proposed. They see money. Obviously, gaming comes with a whole host of socio-economic issues and impacts, but the benefit is that the house wins, and if you are the house, as the province of Ontario is, you get to use that revenue and put it into different programs. As we know, this program, slots at racetracks, has been so successful—$1.3 billion a year. Leveraging that $345 million that has been generated through the slots—leveraging that into $1.3 billion a year that goes into paying for the schools and the hospitals and the roads, bridges, tunnels, sewers and everything that we need to have to live in a cohesive society.
I wonder why that direction is being taken. Why are you abdicating your role as stewards of gaming, as the governors, as the regulators, and opening the doors to the private casinos? We see it in Windsor. Just days after the decision to take the slots out of the Windsor racetrack—just days after that decision was made, Casino Windsor, which is operated by Caesars, laid off 27 workers, just two days after that decision was made. The finance minister justified his decision to pull those slots out of that racetrack because he needed to save jobs at the Windsor casino, but yet we see jobs still being lost, so that rationale doesn’t make sense.
I would like to also point to some issues I have with the Conservative Party’s position on gaming. Specifically, the leader of the Conservative Party was asked about his party’s official position on gaming in Ontario, and ultimately, I see a statement by Mr. Hudak that they should let government regulate it and look after the interests of honest players while getting the government out of the actual slots portion of the operation by privatizing it.
Mr. Taras Natyshak: You may applaud, but I do not see anything different in that statement than what the Liberals are proposing to do. I don’t understand. If you’re going to let—
Mr. Taras Natyshak: We’re having a proper discourse here. If we’re saying that they’re letting the private gaming entities come into this province and you’re going to privatize the whole thing, then tell me how MGM and Caesars are going to broker a deal with the horse racing associations of this province. I don’t see it happening, but if you’re willing to make the gamble, then good luck on you.
The program, as it was stated, worked for rural Ontario. It worked for the people in rural Ontario, and it made sense. Any direction outside of keeping that entity in public hands is a gamble that I am not willing to take, and I hope that the government sees the light on their decision and reverses their decision immediately.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): I just want to remind the members of the public in the gallery that we welcome you here to observe the proceedings, but I would ask you to refrain from any kind of applause or cheering, as I’ve noticed a few of you indulging in. Thank you.
Further debate? The member for Ottawa Centre.
Mr. Yasir Naqvi: Thank you very much, Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak on this motion, and I appreciate the member for Nepean–Carleton bringing this motion forward. I’m sure the member knows that the Auditor General has it within his mandate to investigate any entity in the broader public service.
Hon. Ted McMeekin: Any time he wants.
Mr. Yasir Naqvi: Any time he wants. So I’m not sure whether this motion is really needed, because the Auditor General has the capacity to undertake a value-for-money audit, as per the legislation, of any entity in the broader public sector whenever he wishes. In fact, the member from Nepean–Carleton, earlier in her comments, spoke of the Auditor General’s work in OLG some years ago, looking at its functions and giving recommendations to the government, which the government has implemented. So that’s there, and I think it’s important to keep that in mind, that the Auditor General is free—and, of course, we always welcome the work of the Auditor General. He and his staff do thorough work, and his recommendations are always appreciated.
But what I really want to talk about at this juncture, regarding this motion, is the issue around priorities. It was this morning when the member for Nepean–Carleton, speaking on the motion dealing with full-day kindergarten, was making this argument about how we’re in tough economic times, there is no money, there’s a $15-billion deficit and the government should not invest anything in full-day kindergarten, that a full-day kindergarten program is way too expensive, that we should take away that program and should not benefit our four- and five-year-old children from both rural communities and urban communities. But when it comes to spending $345 million through the slots-at-racetracks program, she wants to maintain that.
She was also quoting the Drummond commission report and talking about how we should be implementing the Drummond commission report, but in the same—
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker: Our side of the House is a bit confused about what he’s debating, full-day kindergarten—the reality is, we’re actually talking for the auditor to come in, and as he well knows, I can’t, as a private member, call the auditor up and tell him to look at a certain area of the broader public service, but—
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Order.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): The member for Ottawa Centre.
Mr. Yasir Naqvi: Well, Speaker, thank you for eating up my time here. I was respectful when she was giving her advice.
I think it’s really important, as to how we can use $345 million, what kind of benefit it can have in our health care system, what kind of benefit that money, in these tough economic times, these tough fiscal times, can have in our rural communities. If you look at what $345 million could pay for, it could pay for over two million house calls from doctors in our communities, both rural and urban. It can pay for over 27,800 hip or knee replacement surgeries, Speaker. It can pay for 17,400 bariatric surgeries and follow-up. It can pay for over nine million hours of home care for our seniors.
What can the same amount of money do in our rural communities? Well, Speaker, first of all, we spend more on horse racing than OMAFRA spends in direct farm support. In the 2011 program year, it was about $319 million. That $345 million is 18 times what we spend in a year on meat inspection. That’s three and a half times what we have spent since 2003 on promoting local food, which directly helps farmers in our local rural communities. That’s two times what we have spent since 2003 on rural economic development projects, which have created or retained 35,000 jobs.
The point is that we need to continue to be responsible, balanced and fair in the manner in which we spend our dollars in these tough economic times. I think members from all ridings, from all communities, understand that point. Our focus at this moment has to be to invest every single resource we have in our health care so that our seniors and our children can get the best health care possible, and also to ensure that we are investing in education—in our schools, our colleges and our universities—so that our children can get the best education as we build our future economy. That’s what we need to focus on.
That’s what the OLG modernization is all about as well. It’s to see how we can increase the revenues we can get from the OLG that get invested in health care and education, so that we have more monies available to us that we can spend in our communities.
I only ask members opposite to engage in making a fair argument—
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): The member from Chatham–Kent–Essex, come to order, please.
Mr. Yasir Naqvi: You cannot stand here on one day to argue that we should get rid of full-day kindergarten, that we should disadvantage our four- and five-year-old kids coming from both rural and urban communities to save money so that we lay off thousands of teachers and support workers and early childhood educators, but on the other hand, we should continue to spend $345 million in the horse racing industry. I don’t think the argument bodes well, especially on the same day. So I urge all members that we should work together so we can continue to invest money in health care and education. That should be our number one priority, because that’s what Ontarians want.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): We started out very nicely. I think we’re getting a little bit out of control.
I would urge the member who was encouraging the audience to refrain from doing so. Thank you.
Mr. Ted Arnott: I know that if the member for Essex had had a little more time, he would have wanted to explain to the House, as well as to the visitors here, why he abstained from the budget vote in the spring, why he sat on his hands when he had the opportunity to defeat the government.
Mr. Speaker, let’s recall what happened on March 12—
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Order. My friend from Lambton–Kent–Middlesex, if you’re going to heckle, I would ask you to sit in your own seat.
I think all the other speakers received the blessing of everyone in the room to be allowed to speak without interference, and I would expect it to continue for the rest of the afternoon.
Mr. Ted Arnott: Speaker, let’s recall what happened on March 12. Without warning, without consultation and, we now know, without a proper economic impact study, the Minister of Finance announced that he would be scrapping the slots-at-racetracks program effective March 31, 2013. It is estimated that today the equine industry supports the employment of as many as 60,000 Ontarians, and I’ve been told that the equine industry employs thousands of people in my riding. From the beginning, we’ve said that unless the government changes course, the livelihood of many of our neighbours would be in jeopardy.
We know that many in the industry do not have easily transferable job skills. While the government has characterized the slots-at-racetracks program as a subsidy to the industry, our PC caucus has expressed the view that the program is in fact a revenue-sharing agreement. It has worked well for years, generating billions for the treasury over those years. We contended that the government had made a huge mistake by throwing the slots-at-racetracks program out the window.
While I firmly believe that the government must take immediate steps to get its spending under control and balance the budget, I have never accepted that this should include eliminating the horse racing industry in the province of Ontario. I publicly called upon the government to release any economic impact studies that they had done before making the decision to end the slots-at-racetracks program and kill the horse racing industry in Ontario.
A constituent from our area was thinking the very same thing. He went so far as to make a freedom-of-information request, asking for any economic impact studies that have been done. They responded to him with an economic impact note on Ontario’s horse racing industry, which was generated by ministry staff as confidential advice to cabinet. The constituent gave it to me. Two weeks ago, my colleague the member for Perth–Wellington and I released it to the public.
The report is dated March 14. As we all know, the government announced its decision to end the slots-at-racetracks program two days before that. I submit to this House that this is proof positive that the government had made up its mind to kill the horse racing industry in Ontario before it had any idea of the true economic impact the industry represents, the real number of jobs the industry sustains and the reality faced by families whose livelihoods are dependent on a thriving horse racing industry.
Now let’s take a look at the interim report of the horse racing industry transition panel. The Minister of Agriculture and Food was very selective in his public comments when he released the report, leading the media to believe that the panel agreed with the government’s decision to scrap the slots-at-racetracks program. But people need to read the whole report, not just the executive summary, which is similarly one-sided. Quote, page 27, panel finding: “Without slots revenue or a new revenue stream, the horse racing industry in Ontario will cease to exist.” Quote, page 28, panel finding: “Absent some other new revenue stream, no Ontario racetrack has a viable business plan to continue racing operations after March 31, 2013.” Quote, page 29, panel finding: “The essential ingredients for a viable horse racing industry—tracks, race dates and purses, and products—will dissolve once” the slots-at-racetracks program ends. Quote, page 31, panel finding: “If the industry closes, the panel has received expert advice that provision should be made for the humane dispatch and disposal of 7,500 to 13,000 horses in early 2013.” Quote, page 32, panel finding: “We urge the government to make a decision quickly.”
The importance of that final statement cannot be overestimated. We know that the autumn yearling sales in Ontario will commence within a matter of days. Without some certainty as to what the government is going to do or when, either the yearlings will have no buyers or their value will likely collapse. These young horses may then end up euthanized or purchased and sent to slaughter plants.
If there are no yearlings, the whole production cycle of the industry may suffer irreparable damage and horse racing will be finished in Ontario. But by supporting this motion today, the House can send a powerful message to the government that they must act now.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): The member for Hamilton East–Stoney Creek.
Mr. Paul Miller: This boils down to one thing here. The government was looking for money because they got us into a $16-billion deficit. And who did they go after? The hard-working people of the horse industry. They went after them because they couldn’t find money anywhere else, because they spent it all. That’s the problem.
When they say the word that they talk about, that they give them a “subsidy”—no. It wasn’t a subsidy; it was a signed contract that the horse racing industry, the racetrack itself and the community signed with the government. You tell me, in any other part of this government, where you can get a 75% return on your money. Nowhere. If that was a bank, I’d be signing up tomorrow.
This industry brings in $1.2 billion of revenue in this business. Yes, it’s down a little bit because of the recession. Yes, some of the American bettors aren’t coming over.
But this industry would bounce back, and bounce back hard, when times get good, when people are working again, when there are jobs in this province. A lot of them will go to the track and to these situations.
What are you doing? You’re cutting your legs off at the knees. And where are you going to get revenue like that somewhere else? You tell me one place. It won’t be from the banks and insurance companies; it’s not going to happen.
So I’m telling you right now that this is going to come back and bite you big-time, when all these people are out of work and the welfare costs go up and the social services costs go up and our health costs go up. I’ll tell you right now: You’re going to hear about this in the next election for sure from the people of Ontario and the horse racing industry.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): The member for Guelph.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: Thank you, Speaker. I’m pleased to speak to the motion by the member from Nepean–Carleton. We don’t agree on a whole lot of things, but one thing we do have in common is that my maiden name is MacNaughton. I too have the Scottish aversion to gambling. I find slots depressing. But I do find that my local racetrack, the Grand River, which I share with Ted, is a wonderful racetrack. It’s a great way to spend an evening—
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): I would ask, if you’re referring to other members in the chamber, that you refer to them by their riding name rather than individual name.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: I think I did say. It was me I referred to.
Mr. Rob Leone: You said “Ted.” Wellington–Halton Hills.
Hon. Ted McMeekin: That Ted.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: Oh, sorry. That Ted; okay.
It’s a great way to spend an evening. Grand River is a wonderful track. It’s operated by the agricultural society. It has a great relationship with the horse people, and it reinvests a lot of the money into improving the facility. I truly do want to see that racing community that is centred around Grand River to continue.
I want to comment on a couple of things in this motion. First of all, the business of a municipal referendum: Let me simply say that there is a requirement that if a municipality is going to be a host to a new casino or new slots, there must be municipal approval for that. The municipality already can have a referendum if it wants to, but if it wants to consult with the people by having public meetings, if it wants to hold delegations at council, if it wants to do a survey—paper or electronic—it can decide how it wants to do public consultation. That’s the municipality’s job, not ours.
Let’s talk about horse racing, because there obviously is a problem here. The other Ted, the Minister of Agriculture and Food, actually did set up a transition panel, as I’m sure everyone here knows. The transition panel represented three former ministers—John Wilkinson from our side, who was a former Minister of Revenue and knows a lot about money; Elmer Buchanan from the NDP, who knows a lot about agriculture because he was a former Minister of Agriculture; and John Snobelen. I don’t agree with much that Mr. Snobelen did on education, but I would be the first to admit that he’s an excellent equestrian, and when it comes to the horse industry he probably knows more than his remaining colleagues combined. So with respect to horses, I respect John.
What did they have to say? I think it’s really important that we have a look at what they actually had to say. Their mandate was to look at how to move forward. When they looked at how to move forward, they actually commented that they had so many comments from people who just said, “The way to move forward is to keep everything the way it is, to return the slots-at-racetracks program.” So I think it is useful to look at what they said. They talked about SARP, the slots-at-racetracks program, and said that if, at the outset, SARP had referred to objectives—it did refer to objectives such as the enhancement of live racing and sustaining the agricultural sector—clear benchmarks were not established to monitor the achievement of these goals. The government simply paid over the funds to the industry without guidelines or requirements, feeding a culture of entitlement. In fact, if the folks opposite had set the thing up properly in the first place, with the proper accountability and with the proper benchmarks, I’m quite sure we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.
The panel goes on to talk about the fact that the panel’s view is that the slot money is public money belonging to the people of Ontario and the government can redirect it to other purposes if it concludes it’s in the public interest.
They go on to say that they often heard of SARP referred to not as a subsidy but as a partnership. They ask the question—if it’s a partnership, it’s a very one-sided one—it may work great for the industry, but what’s in it for the public?
They then go on to analyze the industry and conclude that reinstating the slots program is not the thing to do. They do also say there needs to be a new source of revenue, that it needs to be greater than the $50 million budgeted and what we need to do is have a conversation about—
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Thank you. The member for Stormont–Dundas–South Glengarry.
Mr. Jim McDonell: I’d like to welcome residents from my riding of Stormont–Dundas–South Glengarry and the neighbouring riding of Glengarry–Prescott–Russell today, who are here, along with everybody, to support this important industry.
I stand today to commend my colleague from Nepean–Carleton, who has put politics aside to endorse this Liberal government’s now famous and forgotten Don Drummond report and its recommendation to review the existing horse racing and breeding agreements. I will quote recommendation 17-4: “Re-evaluate, on a value-for-money basis, the practice of providing a portion of net slot revenues to the horse racing and breeding industry and municipalities in order to substantially reduce and better target that support.”
I hear the words “re-evaluate,” “net slot revenues,” “industry” and “municipalities.” I did not hear the word “cancel.” This is just another example of this government wasting millions of dollars on projects and reports that may sound good and are intended to make them appear as if they are truly looking for ways to fix their spending problems. But sadly, it’s just further proof that they are ignoring all reality, all advice.
I wonder if this document that talks about tough decisions to fix our province’s spending problems is just now an embarrassment to them as they show they don’t have the leadership or the backbone to listen to the advice and the warnings this document is clearly telling them, that action is required now to get our deficit problem under control and to make Ontario a leader in Confederation again. An Auditor General’s report would provide an independent review of this very beneficial program and allow this government to save face and back away from a bad and losing proposition.
Today I heard some shocking information that speaks of how this government conducts business. The Minister of Agriculture had not even heard of the cancellation of the agreement until the budget was read. Can you believe this? This makes one question just how this government works. Its decision was made without the input of the ministry it so affects and without the benefit of a cost-benefit analysis that, as flawed as it was, was only completed two days after the budget was read.
Even a quick review shows an industry that contributes over $1 billion to the province’s coffers, employs an estimated 60,000 jobs in our rural communities and provides over $50 million to the municipalities they reside in. This does not include the economic spinoff that’s estimated to exceed $1.5 billion.
I say to this government that it’s time to wake up and start to run the province as the people of Ontario expect and demand. At a time when this government so desperately needs to increase its revenue and control our ballooning deficit, we see it killing one of its major revenue sources, money that we all need to pay for health care and education—all this in favour of an ill-fated program to force casinos into a lot of communities without the approval of the residents. Speaker, this is not only wrong. I commend my colleague from Nepean–Carleton for her efforts to wake up this McGuinty government to the harsh economic realities of the real world and to make them think about the 60,000 jobs of the horse racing and breeding industry, the families they support, and the people of Ontario who benefit from the $1.1 billion in revenue it contributes. An immediate, overnight 10% increase in unemployment: Just like most of this government’s programs, it just doesn’t make sense.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): The member for Nickel Belt.
Mme France Gélinas: We’re here today because the Liberal government has decided to renege on a signed agreement with the racetracks in Ontario, including Sudbury Downs in my riding of Nickel Belt.
When it was first announced, the people affected asked to come and meet with me. They were not what the Liberals want us to believe: rich horse owners. Not at all, Mr. Speaker. They were young families. There were strollers and young kids around. Families, men and women, came and met with me, and those young families told me their stories. They came to northern Ontario and settled in Nickel Belt because they knew that if they worked long hours, if they worked seven days a week, if they worked really hard, they could earn a living. They could earn a living and feel secure enough to get married, to have children, to buy a house, have a mortgage, make car payments, because they knew if they worked hard in this industry, they would do okay. But now all of this is at risk. Those young families are being told that their livelihood is being taken away to make room for 29 new casinos.
Since that first meeting, Mr. Speaker, I’ve learned an awful lot about this industry. I now know, thanks to FedNor, that did an economic analysis of the industry for my riding, that horse racing is a job producer in northeastern Ontario. It is actually one of the economic drivers.
Now that more and more economic information is coming out, it’s clear that this is not an economic decision; it is a political one. It is not based on good finances. I urge the Liberals to rethink this wrong-headed decision before literally betting the farm on new casinos in urban areas.
Please look at everybody in here today. Please look at the 60,000 people in Ontario who will be affected. Please look at the 600 people in my riding who depend on that industry to earn a living. Doing otherwise is a shame.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Further debate. The member for Leeds–Grenville.
Mr. Steve Clark: I’m pleased to have a few moments to speak to this fantastic resolution of my colleague the member for Nepean–Carleton, Lisa MacLeod. I think it’s very important that we’re having the debate here. I can’t understand why anyone in the Legislative Assembly this afternoon wouldn’t want to pass a motion like this, because it does a number of things. One, it gets down to the facts and dealing with the Auditor General on this particular program. My colleagues in our caucus know that sometimes the government opposite doesn’t necessarily want to get to those facts. We’ve seen it time and time again as we move towards a $30-billion deficit.
But the resolution, other than asking the Auditor General to take a look at this program, does something that I think is very important, and that’s the issue of making it mandatory for a municipality to have a referendum if a new casino is moving forward. That’s very important. Certainly the member for Lambton–Kent–Middlesex’s bill that is on the books will do that. In my riding, we’re in very close proximity to Rideau Carleton. I estimate there are over 1,000 jobs in the industry that feed the industry at that track and at tracks all across Ontario. But it also affects the casino that’s presently in my riding in Gananoque, the casino at Thousand Islands. What’s happening is that that community has had that facility for 10 years. Both the town and the township had a referendum that showed they wanted the casino, and the community has embraced it. They had a rally of over 400 people, showing that they were firmly in support of that facility.
Now, I know that some folks down the road in Kingston, maybe a few folks, are interested in maybe having that casino move. I’m sure in my heart of hearts that the member for Kingston and the Islands would want his community to have a referendum, just like my communities had when they asked for that. He wants people to have a say. But by the public meetings, I’m not particularly sure that that’s where they’re going to be at.
Just in closing, the member for Lambton–Kent–Middlesex visited the Mark Steacy Stables in my riding. They gave us this book, with letters from every employee, all of their suppliers, showing that they wanted us to protect the horse racing industry—not just in the village of Lansdowne but all over the province.
I urge all of my colleagues to vote in favour of this motion.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): The member for Beaches–East York.
Mr. Michael Prue: The government is willing to gamble against the odds. If you look at what is happening around the world and happening in Canada as well, casinos are starting to lose money. They are not money-makers. The only money-makers are the people in this room. The horse tracks in this province continue to show in the black.
You are giving up a dream and following the wrong direction. If you were a gambler, I would tell you that the odds are against you. It’s not that you’re going to go anywhere with this. It’s not that there’s more money for schools, as one of your colleagues said. There is going to be less money, because they will not be working, they will not be contributing, and that billion dollars will be gone.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): The member for Nepean–Carleton, you have two minutes for a reply.
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: Thanks very much, Speaker. This was a lively and important debate for the people of Ontario, and I’d like to make a few thank-yous to the people who actually participated in this debate: my colleagues from Essex, Ottawa Centre, Wellington–Halton Hills and Hamilton East–Stoney Creek. The colleague from Guelph: I’m happy to say there’s a busload from her riding today, and the next PC candidate, Anthony MacDonald, is here today. To my colleague and neighbour from Stormont–Dundas–South Glengarry, thank you. To my colleague from Nickel Belt, my very good friend from next door to me as well from Leeds–Grenville and Beaches–East York, we’ve proven today we can have a serious debate on the future of gaming in this province, and we should.
We know that the casinos in Ontario, run by the OLG, lost $46 billion in 2009. We know that they’ve had a difficult track record with their spending, and we know that the numbers put forward by the government are being challenged by an industry in our agricultural communities right across this province. I’m proud to stand with the NDP and Progressive Conservative caucus in supporting these people in the gallery, supporting those 60,000 jobs and ensuring that that $1.2 billion that they contribute to our economy continues to contribute to our economy.
I still think the best way for us to proceed with this radical shift in gaming is to have all the facts and make informed choices. The best way to do that is to ask this assembly to direct the Auditor General to review those numbers, to see what it means for mental health and addiction, see what it means to our agricultural communities, see what it means to our policing sector in those urban communities. Then, as an assembly, together, 107 members here can make informed decisions, and our communities can make even more informed decisions when it goes to a referendum in their community.
I stand by the people who stand by me, and I want to thank the people in the gallery today for being here with us. Thank you, thank you, thank you.