The Liberal government has announced the establishment of a $50-million fund which will serve to help the Ontario racing industry transition from the profit sharing slots at racetracks program to self-sufficient, sustainable business model, over the next three years.

In cooperation with OMAFRA (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs), the government has formed a panel of three former cabinet members, who will consult with industry members to develop a vision for the future; make recommendations on how to allocate funds; and advise on the modernization of other industry revenue sources.

The Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association (OHRIA) has worked tirelessly to initiative communication with the government and help them understand the needs of the industry. “We are encouraged that the government has put OMAFRA on point to hold these discussions that are long overdue,” said Sue Leslie, president of OHRIA. “We take this as an indication that the government is recognizing the value that our industry brings to Ontario’s agricultural economy and to the public in general.”

Leslie stressed however, that “it is not transitional funding that is needed but a long-term funding plan that will insure a vibrant industry in the future. This is a long awaited step, but there are many more steps ahead.”

The panel, comprised of Elmer Buchanan, John Snobelen and John Wilkinson, will issue a final report later this summer.  The team has considerable experience in government, business and agriculture.

Buchanan served as Ontario Minister of Agriculture from 1990 to 1995 and represented the riding of Hastings — Peterborough as a Member of Provincial Parliament. He currently sits on the board of the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission and raises alpacas and angora goats on his Havelock, ON family farm.

Snobelen is an internationally renowned horseman and was inducted into the National Reining Horse Association Hall of Fame in 1994. He served as Minister of Education and Minister of Natural Resources and represented the riding of Mississauga North and Mississauga West as a Member of Provincial Parliament from 1995 to 2003. He Snobelen is president of Beyond Consensus Inc., a firm specializing in conflict resolution.

Wilkinson was first elected in 2003 as Member of Provincial Parliament for Perth-Middlesex. In 2007, he was re-elected as MPP for Perth-Wellington. The first Certified Financial Planner to sit in the Ontario Legislature, he was named to the provincial cabinet in 2007. He served as Minister of Research and Innovation, then as Minster of Revenue and subsequently as Minister of the Environment. During his tenure he implemented Ontario’s Innovation Agenda, was responsible for the largest tax reform package in four decades and was responsible for the passage of the Ontario Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act. Currently, Wilkinson is the president & CEO of Wilkinson Insight Incorporated of Stratford, ON.

The panel issued the following statement:

We are happy to have the opportunity to work alongside the industry and provide them with our support as they develop a vision for their future. We recognize that the horse racing industry is at a crossroad and has challenging decisions to make as it considers its future opportunities. We look forward to hearing from stakeholders on their needs and priorities, so that decisions can be made on how to best assist the industry during this time of transition toward self-sustainability. To help inform our recommendations, we invite stakeholders to submit comments. We are particularly interested on the following identified areas of concern:

• Specific challenges businesses in the industry are facing during this time of transition
• Specific issues facing displaced workers and their training needs
• Specific suggestions on the delivery and allocation of transition funding
• Specific suggestions or considerations regarding equine welfare

Individuals and groups are encouraged to channel thoughts and ideas through your industry associations during the consultation period.

Email, use the Panel feedback form or mail to:

Horse Racing Industry Transition
c/o Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food & Rural Affairs
1 Stone Road West
2nd Floor
Guelph, Ontario

~ with files from Standardbred Canada and OMAFRA