As Ontario's budget vote comes in less than one week, horsemen are urging the industry to help keep the province's valuable horse racing industry on the minds of the MPPs that will vote on the Liberal budget
Anthony MacDonald issued the following letter asking for horsemen to support the Ontario Federation of Labour rally, set for Queen's Park this Saturday. MacDonald's plea comes with comments from some of Canadian harness racing's most recognizable participants. The message to the Government is clear. Don't destroy Ontario's horse racing industry and the 60,000 full and part-time employees it supports. Don't damage rural Ontario and the economic benefits horse racing provides.
As most are aware our industry has come under heavy attack in the last two months. All of us feel picked on and the focus of an unprovoked and fiscally confusing maneuver by our own provincial liberal government.
We are not alone.
All facets of rural ontario are up in arms over the way our government plans on tackling our mounting $16-billion debt, particularly the "modernization" of the OLG. The first step was to announce that the slots at racetracks program was finished. Ripples were sent out all over Ontario and it didn't take long for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) to speak on our behalf.
Next the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) spoke out at our last rally with the OFA at Queens Park. The Canadian Auto Workers and now the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) have voiced their strong opinions against this "morally challenged" move from Mr. McGuinty and his Liberals. The OFL has a massive rally planned for Saturday, April 21 at Queens Park from 3:00 - 5:00 p.m.
All the following quotes are from people all throughout our industry; our friends and co-workers who can all see what kind of a negative future the collapse of our industry in any way, shape, or form will bring to all of our households.
Come to the rally on Saturday, we are not just 60,000, we are not just horse racing. We Are HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS all over Ontario. WE ARE ONTARIO.
- Anthony MacDonald
"Horse racing is a vital part of the rural economy. Ontario farmers rely on this industry - this is a province-wide issue! Our lives and livelihoods are in serious jeopardy. I'm a second generation horseman and I have always taken pride In what this industry has allowed me to accomplish. But my biggest accomplishment is my family. The family values that I instill are trust and honesty. How can I trust our government when they are be far from honest in this respect?"
- Paul MacDonell
"My father worked hard to raise a family in this business and I would like the chance to do the same. To raise a family in a business that has already given so much to the Zerons has always been a goal of mine.
"Why would our government chose unemployment over employment? Where do we go in society? What are the farmers to do if we go?"
- Scott Zeron
"My family has been involved in horse racing for generations. We get up early, work hard, pay our taxes and support our communities. As horse people we recognize the importance of hard work, our business is built around gambling, but we don't gamble our way out of debt. Why does our government feel they should?
"Cutting vital organs to our agricultural sector and leaving horse people unemployed is no way for a responsible government to reduce debt. We all work together, not just horse people but all of rural Ontario, the position my family and your family has been put in is unacceptable."
- Randy Waples
"This industry is and always will be in my blood. For generations my family has supported ourselves and our community with the revenue generated from racing. I have a breeding farm and have raised my foals like I raised my daughter, with love and affection. What do I tell my daughter if there is no more business? When I have to sell my farm?? And she doesn't have a legacy to uphold and continue?
"We horse people work hard, always have. All we ask is for an opportunity to continue to raise our families, and keep the jobs we have worked in since we were all young. Don't throw such a viable healthy partnership away, grow it and we can all work our way out of debt together."
- Joanne Coville
"When I was 17 I got into a terrible car crash, I had extensive injuries to my body and I was in a coma. The doctors said I would never walk again but I did because my passion for harness racing and my will to become a driver pushed me.
"I learned everything I know from my father who has been in this business his whole life. I haven't reached my goals in harness racing yet but I have every intention to do so. Can I live without harness racing, can any of us? It's what I live and breathe and I hope the government sees our industry for what it is....a lifeline for me, my family and all of rural Ontario."
- J Harris
"My entire family is involved or works in horse racing in one facet or another. Our farm has probably had almost $1 million in capital Improvements in the last seven or eight years. Many of its features are race horse-specific and its value has definitely been affected by the recent Liberal government decision. In an often volatile business its equity was one of the things I could count on.
"Also at my farm I employ between 15 to 20 people at all times. This does not count the seasonal students I hire every summer. With the Government forcing such a downturn in my business, I will definitely be cutting back my number of employees as racing opportunities in Ontario decrease and I am either forced to sell horses OR race in other jurisdictions. I have already noticed that potential customers of the horses I sell are less interested in my Ontario-Bred horses. At one time this was almost a prerequisite.
"This whole calamity with the OLG and Liberal government has even made my family and I consider SELLING the farm and either getting out of the business or setting up elsewhere. At one time selling such a thing so beloved by my family would have never entered into the dinner time conversation."
- Blair Burgess
"Harness racing is my whole life. It's all I know how to do. And all I ever wanted to do. When I win races I reinvest in the business. I bought a new trailer last year, new jog carts, a new race bike, new horses, and with that new equipment. Without harness racing I don't know what I'd do. I'd be among thousands of my fellow horsemen. Lost. "
- Jason McGinnis
"It really hit home for me at the track shortly after the announcement was made to cancel the slots agreement, talking to the horse people and seeing the confusion, the anger and worry in their faces and all the while I'm trying to be positive. Then I look around and see a young girl crying worried about her future, it broke my heart. It's hard to see so many people, so many families have their lives destroyed by a greedy, callous out of touch government."
- Dave Gibson
"To my family and I, keeping the "slots at racetracks program" versus accepting the proposed budget is the difference between Food Basics and the food bank. It's the difference between a roof over our heads and a shelter. It's the difference between hugging my babies because I love them and hugging them to keep them warm from the harsh elements. It is the difference between seeing my husband on a daily basis and seeing him in six-month increments because he had to relocate to find work. It's the difference between having a choice and being forced to choose!
"Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Duncan keep using the phrase 'it was a tough decision' but we don't get to decide."
- Christine Arlidge
"As a participant in various aspects of the horse racing industry with a young family, I am deeply concerned for our future. We have already seen a drastic decline in stallion bookings with the worst yet to come unless something is done to save our sport and jobs."
- Jeff Gillis
"My husband and I got into the standardbred business because we love working with horses. Both of our lives are interwoven in many aspects; from standing stallions, freezing horse semen for export, running a reproductive veterinary practice, freelance writing and working at the racetrack as an official veterinarian.
"We spend many months watching diligently as a new foal is born and get up the next day putting in a full work day because this is the way of life we have come to know and love. Our farm, our investments, our horses, our livelihood is now in jeopardy.
"As breeders, we have written to every MPP to explain how the breeding industry is reeling from the effects of the announcement ending the slots at racetracks program in March 2013. We are left asking 'does government care' about the impact of these decisions? All revenue streams are being effected; from cancelled bookings, to mares being relocated to other racing jurisdictions, to fewer mares being bred and boarded due to the uncertainty of the situation in Ontario. Add the fact that the investment we have made in stallion shares, yearlings, foals, mares may be greatly devalued or wiped out and you begin to see how dire the situation is.
"Our situation is similar to those of breeders across this province. Investment is leaving this province each day and we are worried about what will be left of the breeding industry and the racing industry, an industry we love. I have to believe that things won't be left this way and can only hope that those that we elect in government will do the right thing. That they will stop, sit down with industry and take the time to really understand what this really means and come up with some practical solutions that are in the best interest of this province and for its people.
"Maintaining 60,000 jobs, many in rural area's along with the economic spinoff of $2B annually must be important. If this isn't...then this province is in real trouble and has lost sight of what is important!"
- Anna Meyers