As regulator of Canada’s largest horse racing jurisdiction, Jean Major plays a critical role in influencing where horse racing is headed in the province and, to some extent, the country.

In his current role as CEO of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), Major is building on the work he did from 1995 to 2004 as CEO of the former Ontario Racing Commission. During that time, Major spent considerable time and energy focusing the Commission on its core function as a body that regulates the sport, protects the public interest and little more.

“My personal philosophy aligns with the approach that regulators regulate and businesses run their businesses,” Major said in 2015. “I’m a regulator. My job is to understand the business, not to run the business… But I will listen to what’s important, what’s critical to it and then decide on a regulatory framework.”

What are the most critical challenges facing the industry in Canada today?

“The most critical challenge that the horse racing industry is currently facing is ensuring its long-term sustainability. We have entered an era where the interest in racing has been declining over recent years – among industry participants as well as with viewership. This is coupled with recent events that have called into question the sport’s social license to operate. In racing, a social license relates to ensuring the public is confident that there is accountability for horse welfare in all aspects of the sport, and that welfare is paramount to economic interests.

“In order to address these challenges, the industry needs to come together to modernize its approach in a holistic way, taking into account the full life-cycle of racing – from breeding to racing activity to horse aftercare – with the aim of reinvigorating interest in a younger generation to participate in the sport, while also addressing public perception issues. While it is not a regulator’s job to promote sustainability, we can do our part by not getting in the way of innovation and working collaboratively to support public confidence in horse racing.”

What needs to change about the industry in the next 5-10 years?

“A key component of promoting sustainability is ensuring the industry is open to change. There needs to be a willingness to be proactive in anticipating issues and preparing for them. Horse racing has years of important tradition built into it making it the unique sport that it is, but the industry needs to challenge itself to be ahead of the curve and be able to consider where it may be beneficial to try something new. In order to continue to be an economic driver in rural communities and a legitimate source of entertainment, the industry needs to come together on key issues affecting it in order to shape the future of racing from within.”

How can you help affect that change?

“Regulating horse racing is a balancing act, where we seek to anticipate and respond to the demands of an evolving environment by enacting meaningful change, while also taking into consideration economic pressures and business perspectives in a competitive market. An example of this is how the AGCO has been transitioning from a prescriptive command and control model of regulation to an outcomes-based approach that focusses on key regulatory objectives and provides businesses and individuals with flexibility in developing processes to achieve desired results. A key component within this model is providing support to the industries we regulate in being compliant through a focus on education and information sharing regarding best practices. This type of regulatory approach allows the horse racing industry to challenge the status quo and approach change in new and innovative ways.

“Another key area where the AGCO continues to support the industry in modernization is through the use of data analytics to develop evidence-based solutions. We have access to an abundance of information that we use to identify issues and trends, and where we work with the industry on key priorities using evidence to support change that is effective and to measure progress.

“Finally, we seek to move the yardstick on issues that affect the industry’s social license to operate. The AGCO and the industry have been leaders in advancing health and safety for both equine and human athletes, and will continue to do so in the future with input from the industry. Recent examples include the ban on race day medications, introduction of a concussion protocol for jockeys, and conducting a test period to evaluate a new way of urging during racing.”

Where do you see the thoroughbred industry in Canada in 10 years?

“I am hopeful that in 10 years, if not sooner, the industry will have made marked progress on its sustainability within society and that it continues to be a strong source of entertainment and economic activity within Ontario, Canada and globally. In so doing, I hope that the industry undertakes a collective investment in responsibility for maintaining integrity and promoting a safe and exciting product, where the need for the regulator is not as prominent because people are motivated to be self-compliant and to do the right thing for the future of the sport.”