August 30, 2012

OEF Says Sandals Insensitive to Horse Industry

Allan Ehrlick, President of the Ontario Equestrian Federation, has responded to an article that ran in the Guelph Tribune on Aug. 9 in which Guelph MPP Liz Sandals minimized the impact that the loss of the slots-at-racetracks program will have on the horse industry and the provincial economy.

His response is listed below:

We wish to address Guelph MPP Liz Sandals’ statements regarding the future of the racing industry in Ontario. (The original article can be viewed here.) We were unaware she was a horse or agriculture expert, as indicated by her comments regarding these industries and their impact on the Guelph economy.

The slots-at-the-racetracks program was never a government subsidy, as Sandals implies. It was a fee for doing business. The program was a partnership between the industry and Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, which saw racetracks and horseman receive 20 per cent of the revenue from slot machines hosted at race venues already running legal gambling operations. This money allowed the tracks to increase racing purses, update technology and make capital improvements to their facilities. A portion of this money also went to breeders and horsemen.

As for the five per cent paid to municipalities like Wellington and Halton, which Sandals calls a “very, very, very sweet deal,” we suspect she’s only upset that she was not able to secure that same funding for her riding of Guelph.

Sandals states this “big chunk of revenue” is “supposed to go to public services like health and education.”

The horse racing industry has been a substantial contributor for these services through revenue generation and taxation, a fact she fails to mention. How exactly was money diverted from education and hospitals? The racetracks are doing the revenue generation, not the government.

Sandals also states that the slots-at-the-racetracks program was “not an indefinite deal,” which questions why some tracks’ 15-year contracts were renewed, only to be cancelled. Has Sandals and her government identified better revenue-generating options for those farmers and horsemen she represents in the agricultural riding of Guelph?

Demonstrating her equine prowess, Sandals is quoted as saying that the vast majority of horses in Ontario are not race horses. That’s true, but she must feel a struggling racing community won’t impact the non-racing equine industry.

Has her research taken into account the economic ramifications to the University of Guelph, local farmers and Guelph residents who supply and participate in the racing sector?

Has she given serious thought to the resulting future availability of goods and services available to the entire horse industry?

Sandals goes on to say that she is not insensitive to the plight of the over 20,000 race horses in Ontario. But what exactly does this mean? Is she going to open her own rescue facility? We invite her to join us for a field trip to an equine slaughterhouse so she can see first-hand the impact of her government’s decision.

And then there are the 60,000 people employed in the horse-racing industry, 35,000 of which are full-time. Can she seriously tell them that things aren’t that bad?

These are productive, tax-paying citizens, many in their 40s and 50s with no other working experience. Sandals mentions “a bit more transitional money” may be required to help them move into new careers. That’s probably the most accurate thing she’s said yet.

By any measure, the $50 million earmarked to retrain 60,000 people is inadequate. Even if that money could be stretched to retrain everyone, would work be available in this sluggish economy?  Perhaps there will be a few dollars left over to pay for Sandals to brush up on her sensitivity training.

The Ontario Equestrian Federation is not a political organization, but we have the responsibility to speak for an industry that is respected throughout the world. The Liberal government has greatly underestimated the impact that ending the slots-at-racetracks program will have on this province, particularly for those in the agricultural and equine industries.

Considering the constituents Sandals represents, her lack of understanding speaks volumes.

Allan Ehrlick
President, Ontario Equestrian Federation

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