While retrieving my voicemail one day last February I heard the familiar voice of Fred Brayford on the tape asking me to return his call. Apart from being a highly regarded Allistonian, Fred is known for his love of horses.
I returned his call right away, and within a few moments of catching up with this long-time horse owner, I was reminded by Fred of just how devastating Dalton McGuinty’s decision to end the Slots at Racetracks partnership was going to be on our communities, and rural Ontario as a whole.
The program was created back during my time as a cabinet minister. It started because we needed venues to host the government’s slot machines, and since racetracks already had gaming at their facilities, it was a perfect fit.
As the host of the government’s slot machines, racetracks received 20 percent of the profits for two reasons; we were renting their facilities and we had to compensate them for the losses they would incur from their own gaming enterprises.
It’s a common practice. You don’t go to a government office to buy a lottery ticket; you go to a convenience store that has partnered with the government to sell the tickets on their behalf.
This particular partnership saved the government a bundle because we didn’t have to build our own standalone facilities and it meant that our communities wouldn’t be littered with slot machines – gaming would stay in pre-approved areas.
The spinoffs from the partnership are huge for the agricultural industry and the province. Just ask Marv Chantler of Loretto who is one of the many people in our riding with a sign on his lawn warning people of the 60,000 jobs that could be lost with the end of the partnership.
Those jobs account for over $1.5 billion in wages, with $47,145 being the average for racetrack operations employees, and $55,035 for those working backstretches and farms that are found all over our area. Those are good salaries that pump needed funds into our local economies.
The amount that the industry spends as a whole is pegged at $2 billion per year with 80 percent of it being spent in rural, agricultural communities like ours.
The Liberals will tell you that this is simply a “secret subsidy for a few, very wealthy racetrack owners,” but that line doesn’t pass the smell test.
According to the Liberals own 2011 Budget, slot machines at racetracks were responsible, in part, for $1.5-billion of hospital operating expenses, $120-million for the Ontario Trillium Foundation, $41-million for problem gambling and related programs, $10-million for amateur sports, and $69-million for general government priorities.
One thing is for sure, the Liberals have obviously not met those who will be most affected, people like Jeff MacLaren, a jockey from Tottenham, whom I met earlier this year along with his young family at Queen’s Park.
Jeff is the farthest thing from that image of Cyril Sneer, the ruthless aardvark who acts as a greedy businessman in that old cartoon The Raccoon’s. That’s Dalton McGuinty’s vision of horse people, but it’s not the reality.
Like so many in his sector, Jeff is a guy who loves his job and works very hard through very long and difficult days in a very reputable and important industry.
Make no mistake about it this is a blow to rural Ontario.
It’s tragic that so many honest and hardworking people – who can be found in every corner of our riding – are being thrown out of the industry, especially at a time when we’ve already got 600,000 people in Ontario out of work.
I support horse racing in Ontario and my Party has done so for a very long time. I urge constituents to keep up the fight, keep writing to Dalton McGuinty and signing petitions as I will too.
Jim Wilson is the Progressive Conservative MPP for Simcoe-Grey