We believe that this letter from Greg Walling, the Special Advisor on horse racing to Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal, directly contradicts what was discussed in our last post (Ontario Racing and the Standardbred Alliance Merge to Create a Unified Horse Racing Industry Organization). The actions of Ontario Racing and the Standardbred Alliance directly go against what Walling advises below. Further he warns about the power of the Woodbine Entertainment Group, which the merger of the organizations to be managed as a branch of WEG, will only serve to give them more power and control.
Ontario's Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal appointed Greg Walling as his Special Advisor on horse racing last year. They had worked together on matters relating to the industry for several years, including bringing racing back to Kawartha Downs in 2014.
Mr. Walling has tendered his resignation with the following letter in which he outlines his suggestions on the industry going forward as follows.
Hon. Jeff Leal, MPP
Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
77 Grenville Street
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1B3
Dear Minister Leal:
It has been one year since you appointed me as Special Advisor to the restructuring of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry. During that time there have been many positive changes made that will serve as a foundation for the long term success of the industry. It is evident the industry has begun to establish the structure necessary to support growth and good governance. With this momentum of change, my role is no longer needed and I wish to respectfully submit my resignation.
Not being from the industry but growing up in rural Ontario and assisting in the negotiations of Kawartha Downs gave me a special appreciation, independence and an understanding of the importance of this industry to Ontario, in particular, the rural areas and the people who derive their living from this sector.
With this knowledge, I would part with the following observations:
1. Continue to fight for the smaller regional tracks as they are the development ground of horses, drivers and owners. They are important to their communities and are a vital part of the ongoing success of the industry. Ensure their voices are heard.
2. Beware of WEG’s dominant position. In the proposed structures of administration not only are they a player, they are the scorekeeper and referee. They are becoming too big to challenge and yet it must be recognized their success depends in large part on the significant partnership with the Ontario government and its ongoing funding support. With so much of tax payers monies invested in this company, there needs to be careful scrutiny and accountability.
Because of this market participation and dominance, I would recommend that HPI be operated by Ontario Racing; thus being operated for the entire industry with the revenue generated being used to support O/R and the industry. To me, the WEG role continues to be the biggest challenge to the Industry. There must be a fairness of funding and governance input regardless of track size.
3. Comments that the industry still needs to be restructured fail to appreciate and recognize the downsizing that has happened to date. It does not recognize the pain communities such as Sudbury have already faced and from my numerous discussions with the MacIsaac family, the Ontario horse racing industry is lesser without their leadership and participation.
4. The Industry needs horse people in senior positions in Ontario Racing and OLG.
5. The government and the industry need to develop a plan to assist the tracks who will lose their OLG leases due to gaming operations moving to another site. Kawartha Downs is facing this challenge and without a focused plan, all of the effort and work that has created great crowds and a renewed enthusiasm will be in vain. The government created this structural oversight; it needs to provide the leadership of repair.
Minister, as you aware my business background is varied from communications to manufacturing and with this experience I have worked with people of varying sectors. I have found the horse people of Ontario to be hardworking, honest, and dedicated to their industry and their communities. It was a pleasure to participate with you in this important work.
D. Gregory Walling