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Save racetrack, Region urges province 0

File photo of Standard reporter Jeff Bolichowski.

By Jeff Bolichowski, The Standard

The Fort Erie Race Track.  MIKE DIBATTISTA /NIAGARA FALLS REVIEW

The Fort Erie Race Track. MIKE DIBATTISTA /NIAGARA FALLS REVIEW

The province must step up and help save Fort Erie’s horse racing industry, says regional council.

Council unanimously backed Fort Erie Coun. John Teal’s call Thursday for the province to sit down with Fort Erie and save the town’s racetrack before Dec. 1.

The track has been in turmoil since the spring, when slot machines were pulled out of the racetrack, spelling doom for horse racing in Niagara. But Teal said it’s more than a blow to Fort Erie, but to all of Niagara’s agricultural sector — and he said a $50-million provincial transition plan for the industry is not enough.

“The majority of people who are losing their jobs would transition to social assistance,” he said.

He said Fort Erie would need a minimum of 60 horse-racing days per year to stay economically viable. And he slammed the notion of moving horse racing to Ajax Downs, saying Fort Erie is simply a better track.

Provincial officials, he said, must “get off their duffs and settle this. They’re destroying horse racing in the province of Ontario and they will destroy the Fort Erie Race Track.”

Councillors backed the motion to a person Thursday.

It asks Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin to sit down with local stakeholders to hammer out a plan for the racetrack’s future.

Niagara Falls Coun. Bart Maves ripped the province for terming cash raised at the now-pulled racetrack slots as subsidization. He said it amounted to a business deal that the province went back on.

“They effectively took the slot machines out and left and slammed the door shut behind them, never to be opened again,” he said.

“I just don’t believe that there is the will of this government to see this racetrack survive.”

Niagara at large has reason to be leery of the racetrack’s fate, said Welland Coun. Peter Kormos.

“The agricultural industry in this region has been whacked,” he said. He said the racetrack’s loss would also affect horse breeders, feeders and boarders.

“Our agricultural industry here in Niagara has been hammered almost into oblivion.”

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