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Liberals Admit Mistake On Horse Racing

Published: January 29, 2013 9:13 am ET

Last Comment: February 3, 2013 9:31 am ET | 22 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

The Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Ted McMeekin, has finally come clean to the horse racing industry that the Liberals made a mistake by rushing the decision to end the Slots-at-Racetracks Program (SARP).

While conducting an interview with Andrew Dreschel of the Hamilton Spectator, McMeekin admitted his government "dropped the ball" on horse racing and stated that he hoped that the Liberals would be "A little bit more collaborative then we’ve been. And that we’ll listen better than we have. And we will quit trying to wedge issues."

In reaction, Lisa Thompson, MPP (Huron-Bruce) issued a release on Monday stating that "The Minister and his Liberal government picked an unnecessary battle with the harness racing community and for what? To come back almost a year later and say ‘sorry I was wrong’? If the Minister had sat down, weighed the pros and cons and actually talked to those in the industry then we wouldn’t have had this crisis and he wouldn’t have to issue this mea culpa. This government needs to eliminate making policy on the fly, and start doing the research and listening to the people."

This decision needlessly risked over 55,000 jobs in Ontario’s once thriving horse racing industry and alienated many rural communities.

With Kathleen Wynne noting that she'd handle the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, McMeekin is said to be in line for a position to succeed Laurel Broten as Minister of Education.

“It is about time that the Minister owned up to the mistakes this government has made in terms of their treatment of rural Ontario,” continued Thompson. “Ontario’s horse racing industry has been in complete chaos because of the Liberal government’s decision to end SARP without any planning,” said Thompson. “Now it’s nearly a year later the Minister is just coming to terms that he dropped the ball on this important issue. It took risking 55,000 jobs and nearly a year of uncertainly for the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs to even admit he made a mistake and this government has continuously ignored rural concerns.”

February 3, 2013 - 9:31 amIn order to save the racing

In order to save the racing industry , along with the breeding and all other related industries in Ontario , you MUST realize this challenge is a Marathon Not a Sprint!!!!!

February 1, 2013 - 2:50 pmYeah but remember they cared

Yeah but remember they cared for us for about 3 months before the last election!!

February 1, 2013 - 2:18 pmMust be an election coming

Must be an election coming up!! The Liberals are starting to talk like they care about Rural Ont again!! How many of us will fall for it again? Don't get dazzled by their sudden concern!
also remember how Andrea promised to stand with us and then did nothing! Not one NDP voted on the budget!

January 30, 2013 - 6:45 pmIf a strong message is to be

Cy McKenna SAID...

If a strong message is to be sent to the Liberals and the OLG Let it be this from the track owners.If the slots at racetrack program is not to be extended for at least 2yrs.Please have your slots removed from our property on April 1st It's time to play Hardball

January 30, 2013 - 5:23 amOther than Dave Perkins

Tom Kelly SAID...

Other than Dave Perkins writing in the Toronto Star , no one seems to understand the problems facing the Standardbred Rcacing Industry..Bill Murdoch who sat in the legislature as a MPP said in Ontario there are two governing bodies! One is the govt of the GTA with 33 members belonging to the LIBERAL party and then there are the rest of us outside split between the PC,s and the NDP..Any chance that racing will return? Will we see the Maple Leafs win the stanley cup? I am betting $2.00 that neither is about to happen anytime soon...Thanks everyone who I met at the rallies and who took a sign back in the War of 2012.... Best of luck.. Tom ( Southampton Ontario) SC groom

January 29, 2013 - 11:09 pmI'm wondering why someone can

I'm wondering why someone can not get every track owner n a room at once and read them the riot act. I have said from the beginning track owners are the ones with all the power they house the slot machines. Maybe Brian Tropea could get them all together and explain to them what is going on because they clearly don't get it.Ronda Markle

January 29, 2013 - 8:21 pmFrom a PR standpoint these

Norm Brunet SAID...

From a PR standpoint these new deals tracks have been signing are poison to our industry. We have traded a revenue sharing agreement in return for a subsidy. It's understandable because the industry was very much under duress, much of it unnecessary, but yet still there. The public's perceptiom on this will not be favourable and will be difficult to renew in 2 years with current deficits.
We all know that some changes were needed in our industry, yet here we are after 10 months of 2nd guessing back at square one. Tracks can't exist with handles that are a fraction of what the purses are nor can we have 3 Ontario tracks racing at the exact same time.
This is the horse industry's 2nd life and hopefully we will learn from our mistakes.
The only hope we have for longevity is the reinstatement of SARP and clear roles of whom is in charge of marketing this sport and leading us into less dependency on this program.

January 29, 2013 - 7:59 pmI think what McMeekin meant

Lynne Magee SAID...

I think what McMeekin meant to say was that his party got caught with their pants down in the master plan to destroy horse racing to further the exploits of McGuinty/Duncan/Godfrey/Tanenbaum/MGM/Sands/Caesars et al. This whole thing was no mistake. It's been in the works for a few years apparently. They just didn't anticipate the dumb, rural horsepeople fighting back and dragging out all of their dirty laundry. Just saying.

January 29, 2013 - 7:00 pmLiberals can only save horse

Liberals can only save horse racing by cancelling all Letters of intent with all tracks, continue SARP exactly as it was for now and make any necessary minor changes after everything has been studied in depth, perhaps 2 or 3 yrs. from now. Its the only way any horseperson will vote Liberal at the next election (I hope).

January 29, 2013 - 6:35 pmWhere was the ORC when all

Sheldon Rose SAID...

Where was the ORC when all this was going on?

January 29, 2013 - 4:53 pmI think it's a little late

Cy McKenna SAID...

I think it's a little late for the Liberals to admit they screwed up.The damage that has been done to this industry will never be fixed.If and when an election is called anyone who votes Liberal is not in touch with the real world,and have themselves checked into a facility for the insane.The thing I will not forget is Mr.Mcmeekin's statement when this all started.I repeat his statement not the Liberal's.And I quote."We are not going to pay millionares money to race thier horses".One other thing to think about before you put the x on the ballot.

January 29, 2013 - 4:43 pmI think we all agree the

Georg Leber SAID...

I think we all agree the apology (although it seems more like a confession) is very late and the timing is more than a coincidence. The Liberals have a new Sheriff, albeit she was part of the cabinet. Pupatelo was Mcguinty and Duncan's heir apparent and she didnt get the support.

It is an opportunity for the Liberals to do something before an election. If they want to confess and then correct it, I say let them talk while we are waiting. Who knows they may go so far as reinstating our old deal (no matter what some have said on this board). It doesnt seem like a logical progression but we are dealing with government and that's unpredictable. They havent got much to lose because they are staring down the barrel of a lost election and/or by-elections. They traded a billion dollars for 4 seats in the last election.

The other possibility is that they just give us a new deal which will take the form of a real subsidy. I can live with that if the deal is good enough.

Georg Leber-ICR Racing

January 29, 2013 - 4:14 pmIt would seem that Ted

It would seem that Ted Mcmeekin is being offered up as the whipping boy. In return for a position as minister of education, he has been assigned to make apologies and smooth over a colossal miscalculation by McGuinty, Duncan, et al. While his comments are interesting, until I hear the same admission from Kathleen Wynne, along with a promise to rework the SARP, this falls into the same old bulls**t the industry has been fed for the past 10 months.

January 29, 2013 - 4:10 pm“We signed a letter of intent

“We signed a letter of intent with them to continue operating the slots,” MacIsaac said, adding it’s a straight rental agreement, with the OLG paying a certain amount to rent space.
“There was no percentage revenue sharing. The OLG always maintained from the start of this process that they were going to get into commercial rental arrangements,” he said. “But understand, it’s a letter of intent, which is kind of like an agreement to agree.”
The province hopes to finalize the agreements by Feb. 28. The old deal between cites, racetracks and the OLG expires at the end of March.
“There’s still work to be done,” is all MacIsaac would say when asked what is needed to get a final deal in place.

Above is the statement by Sudbury Downs owner Pat MacIsaac regarding the recent wave of rental agreements the OLG was in such a hurry to announce. The funny thing is, they're not contracts...they're letters of intent. Finalizing contracts Feb. 28?
With McMeekin's admission of prematurely cancelling SARP for someone's personal agenda timeline (guess who), this new information gives racetrack owners the ability to save the SARP program by not signing the rental contracts. The SARP program puts more money in their pockets so it is in their best financial interests to do so.
This government is now toothless, so they are now forced to negotiate with the racetrack owners or risk having their slot machines on the street come April 1- 2013. This would be political suicide.

Now is the time to ramp up the campaign to save the SARP program. They can re-negotiate the percentages and save 90% of the agriculture industry jobs. (mostly harness racing)

We have a small window until Feb. 28 before the contracts are signed.
Stand up NOW and force them to SAVE THE SARP!

January 29, 2013 - 3:32 pmWell said, Heather. You did

Lynne Magee SAID...

Well said, Heather. You did well to land on your feet but so many haven't and won't. Does McMeekin's admission of wrong-doing help any of the breeders, grooms, owners, trainers as they "transition"? It sure as hell doesn't make up for our sleepless night, lost income, plans for a future. It doesn't bring back any of those beautiful foals, productive broodmares and stallions that have left the province or just left us altogether. Many of us had to let staff go, tighten our belts while others have just sold everything and gotten out. It's been a tough year but McMeekin's admission of "dropping the ball" should make it all ok??? Not bloody likely! It seems to me that we now have some clout so let's use it.

January 29, 2013 - 2:20 pmAny apology in my eyes comes

Any apology in my eyes comes to little too late. I have been one of the casualties as have many others. I lost my job as groom of over 10 years back in Sept of 2012...Living in the Huron county area where there are very few horsemen left looking for grooms. I am not surprised by the apology however. I see this as damage control.. Our industry has been forever affected by the rash decisions of our supposed leaders. My story has a happy ending. But many others left out in the cold do not share the same ending. I am behind the horsemen 100% and I do not trust this government one little bit....I still believe there is much to be done, but it has been a privilege to see the wonderful people of my sport band together and fight....Don't stop, the industry is worth saving

January 29, 2013 - 12:32 pmI find the timing a bit odd.

Don Patrick SAID...

I find the timing a bit odd. Just after they have negotiated what I assume to be a rental agreement with WEG, this Liberal now wants to come clean. The only honourable solution would be to get rid of Godfrey, and start from scratch.

January 29, 2013 - 11:23 amLisa Thompson has it right.

Lynne Magee SAID...

Lisa Thompson has it right. McGuinty and Duncan's plan to devastate horse racing in favour of Larry Tanenbaum's bingo halls and internationally-owned casinos was condoned by every single Liberal mpp when push came to shove (it came time vote)but now we have McMeekin admitting that it was wrong all along rather than just since the panel was formed. Even then, the public was never told the truth. The Liberals told the people of Ontario that we were being subsidized and "taking provincial funding from education, health, seniors, infrastructure". How about they now tell the people the truth and that they LIED? Also, tell them why McGuinty/Duncan/Godfrey/Tanenbaum/MGM and others lied-----to further their own agendas. All the crap about putting that money towards education, health, seniors, infrastructure was just more lies and manipulation.

January 29, 2013 - 11:09 amNobody can be suprised at

Roy Steele SAID...

Nobody can be suprised at this admission by Mckeekin he stalled he postured he had his hands tied. What he could have done was act with responsibility and stood up to Duncan and McGuinty. So now he gets rewarded for his silence with the Education portfolio. Its never to late as the oppossition parties love em or hate em have the upper hand here.Its them that should be canvassed into sorting this mess out and it is a mess. Its simple sort it out or call an election ....... the longer it goes the bigger the comfort zone for the liberals ....... we cannot go another year like this this years breeding season is a write off for the smaller guys ......

January 29, 2013 - 10:56 amWhen all this tragedy began I

Dave Nicol SAID...

When all this tragedy began I remember Ted talking to some members of the horseracing community standing beside a pickup truck. He had obviously been bullied into a position he was not comfortable with. Unlike someone telling the truth he would not look these people in the eye, and came across poorly. Finally telling the truth may make him feel better but it sure doesn*t make me all warm and fuzzy! We the horseracing community have always provided value for money and didn*t deserve the treatment we received. I will say again it is never too late to sit down with our representatives and undo reckless and unecessary government incompetence. Maybe it*s time for some other ministers to stand up and admit this tragic attack was a mistake as they were all at the same table?

January 29, 2013 - 10:19 amI know better late then never

I know better late then never is a good thing, but a lot of damage done will never be recovered. If you put lipstick on a pig, it is still a pig.

January 29, 2013 - 9:38 amThis policy originated in

Ian Howard SAID...

This policy originated in Finance and was implemented by finance. What racing must ask itself is: Do we believe Kathleen Wynne will be able to salvage as much of the industry as possible and will she intervene to allow racetracks to manage their own slot facilities.
It is clear that even under Tim Hudak the best we could hope for is that same scenario. By the time an election is called and even if Andrea Horwath were to win the privatization process would be so far along it would be nearly impossible for the NDP to change much.
That is why it is important to continue to press the Liberals to repair as much of the damage as possible by qualifying racetracks to bid on their slots while extracting date and purse structure certainty.
We all know this was Duncan's policy and he hopefully will go soon. Now is the time to argue for the possible. After watching Wynne's speech and campaign I believe she will at least listen. Is that guaranteed ? No but compared to where the industry was headed in July it is an achievement.
Make no mistakes if the faction of the party headed by Duncan had had its way racing would have ceased to exist and whether you think Minister McMeekin has done enough without his and the panel's efforts there would no longer be racing of any kind in this province.

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