Ontario's opposition parties have been quite vocal in giving verbal support for the province's beleaguered horse-racing industry. Front and centre in the year-long crisis have been PC MPP Monte McNaughton and NDP MPP Taras Natyshak. If observers have thought their criticism of the Ontario Liberals' handling of the horse-racing industry was going to cease, they are dead wrong.
A report by The London Free Press has quoted both MPPs, and they provided comments that many perceive to cut right to the bone of the drawn-out issue.
Speaking of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who appointed herself Agricultural Minister just a few weeks ago, McNaughton said that he believes she is completely out of touch with the decimation of the primarily rural horse-racing industry because she "doesn't understand the seriousness" of what is happening within the industry. McNaughton added that he believes "it’s the fact that we have a premier who represents downtown Toronto. They just don’t care about jobs outside Toronto.”
The article explains that Natyshak has said that the Ontario Liberals have intentionally misconstrued the semantics regarding the provincial horse-racing industry's capital.
Under the current slots-at-racetrack agreement, provincial horse racing receives its fair, contractual share of slot-machine revenue. That agreement is due to the fact that in the late '90s racetracks gave up their provincial gaming monopoly in order to allow the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. to rent space within racetracks to allow the Ontario Government to make billions of slots, which are a direct form of gambling competition for tracks located right within racetrack walls. The Ontario Government partnered with the Ontario horse-racing industry because the public would not accept gaming --- especially casino gaming --- in urban areas. For roughly a decade and a half, the Ontario Government and the OLG publicly lauded the windfall at every opportunity it had --- especially at every fiscal quarter.
When the OLG announced its controversial gaming modernization plan, the wording from the Ontario Government and the OLG couldn't have pulled more of a 180. The lauded, bilateral revenue-sharing agreement apparently turned into a burdensome 'subsidy' overnight, according to the OLG, the reigning Ontario Liberals, and the now ex-Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan.
With the OLG and the Ontario horse-racing industry every day getting closer to the March 31, 2013 termination of the equally beneficial slots-at-racetracks program, the Ontario Liberal Government has reached a tentative, post-SARP agreement which will now see the Province of Ontario truly and purely subsidize racing at Woodbine Racetrack and Mohawk Racetrack for at least the next two years. Now a true subsidy in its purest form, the Ontario Liberal Government has opted to label it as a 'transitional agreement.'
“There were no public dollars involved in the slot-at-racetracks partnership," said Natyshak, who is also the NDP's labour critic. "It was a fund that was based on the discretionary and disposable income of those who bet and wagered at racetrack facilities.
“So now we’re in a position where the government is using public dollars to fund what remains of the industry at such a small number from what they fully know is required to substantially entice not only those who race horses but those who bet on horses.”
After calling out the Ontario Liberals on their calculated misconstruing of the situation, Natyshak cut to the bone. “They (the Ontario Liberals) are hell-bent on dismantling this industry. What they have done here with this decision is a perfect example of how you would go about dismantling an entire industry . . . There’s nothing here that says they want to promote the industry, to continue the industry, to sustain it. They want to shrink it, divest their involvement in it and move on to private corporate casinos.”
According to The London Free Press report, Natyshak has said that he plans to reintroduce the previous motion put forth by Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath last fall. The motion calls for a pause to the OLG modernization process. Natyshak is expected to re-introduce the motion in the coming weeks via a private members motion.
(With files from The London Free Press)