December 15, 2017
Ms. Bonnie Lysyk
Auditor General of Ontario
1530 – 20 Dundas Street West
Toronto ON M5G 2C2
Re: Request for value-for-money audit, Woodbine Entertainment Group
Dear Ms. Lysyk:
Recently, I attended a meeting of the Ontario Horse Peoples’ Alliance, where I learned about a number of concerns that the alliance has regarding Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG). I believe these concerns warrant your office’s attention.
Under a five-year sustainability plan – the Horse Racing Partnership Program (HRPP) – the Ontario government invests approximately $100 million annually into the province’s horse racing industry through Ontario Racing. Ontario Racing distributes the money, primarily for purses, to racetracks that conduct live races. To date, Ontario taxpayers have contributed approximately $400 million through the HRPP.
As the principal racetrack in the province, Woodbine Racetrack, which is owned by WEG, receives a large share of HRPP funding. As such, WEG exercises a commanding degree of influence within the industry. I heard at the alliance meeting that WEG has used its financial might to impose its decisions in a dictatorial fashion on horse people. Should an individual horse person disagree with a WEG decision, they risk being banned from using Ontario’s most important racetrack.
Currently, and remarkably, there is no burden of accountability or transparency on WEG, notwithstanding that it is in receipt of millions of taxpayer dollars annually. Frustrated and outraged horse people who have been sidelined and otherwise bullied by WEG have come together to form the Ontario Horse Peoples’ Alliance. Members are demanding that WEG be subject to government oversight. However, to date, the Ontario government has created no mechanism that would monitor WEG’s policies, practices, or decisions related to funding allocation.
That is why, Ms. Lysyk, I respectfully request that your office undertake a value-for-money audit of WEG to determine how much money this for-profit corporation receives annually and how WEG uses these funds, not only to meet its corporate objectives of supporting horse breeding, training and, racing but to advance the personal interests of its principals.
Finally, I have taken the liberty of linking an article from the Windsor Star dated April 28, 2014, in which you express serious concern regarding financial transparency and its impact on the horse racing industry. It seems your concerns have been borne out by the industry’s main participants – just ask the horse people the program was supposed to benefit.
I remain at your disposal for any further information and look forward to hearing from you.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union
c: The Honourable Charles Sousa, Minister of Finance
James Whelan, President, Horse Peoples’ Alliance of Ontario