Ontario Hansard February 28, 2018

The following is part of a discussion concerning racing that was held at Queen's Park this past week.

"Horse racing industry
Mr. Wayne Gates: My question is to the Premier. We’ve been fighting this Legislature for four years to ensure the Fort Erie racetrack has a future. When the private, for-profit Woodbine Group, which the Premier has effectively put in charge of public horse racing funds, announced its unfair stabling policy last April, we raised this issue in the House and demanded action. But instead of fixing it, the government announced a surprise audit of Fort Erie. That was fine; the track accepted this audit and opened every door. It has met every demand this government has made of it. Can the Premier tell us what the result of that audit was and what she has done to address the issue we raised last April?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Minister of Finance.

Hon. Charles Sousa: We all know—and we appreciate the advocacy of this member as well—that Fort Erie is an important economic viability and heritage to that community as well as to the province. The track is critical to the local community and to the historic significance it’s had over the years.

As mentioned, we are working on an over $100-million horse racing industry program that will benefit Fort Erie. In fact, as he knows, Fort Erie has benefited by $7.9 million for the racetrack, even though they lost quite a bit under some Conservative cuts in the past.

But let me be clear: The racing industry in Fort Erie specifically gets supports for the purses as well as for operating. I’ll say more in the supplementary with regard to the audit.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Wayne Gates: Back to the Premier: It is my understanding that the Fort Erie racetrack passed the audit with flying colours. In fact, Fort Erie may be the most lean and efficient track in Ontario. Every year they continue to break betting and attendance records. But by giving the private, for-profit Woodbine Group such extraordinary influence over horse racing in Ontario and allowing it to use its influence against its competition, this government has put Fort Erie at an unfair disadvantage.

When will the Premier stop Woodbine from using its government-granted power over horse racing to put competitive racetracks like Fort Erie out of business?

Hon. Charles Sousa: The member opposite also knows that we did resolve the stabling policy. Woodbine has also come forward, recognizing the importance of that relationship with Fort Erie and that’s going to proceed.

In terms of the audit, we have received it. It has not been brought to my attention, but I do know that it has been noted that it’s been efficient. There are some challenges they face. The mayor has sent me a letter with regard to some of the measures he would like to see proceed, and we are acting upon it. We are actually going to support these small tracks. We’re going to provide the necessary steps and have oversight.

I want Fort Erie and the small tracks to be part of the Ontario racing board, to have transparency and overall effort to see what the industry should be doing. It cannot be just on one provider; it has to include everybody as well as the horsemen so they can breed and have greater stability in the breeding of horses. That, too, is an issue for Fort Erie. I recognize that.

I thank you for your effort. We will work together to benefit Fort Erie as well."