MPP wants new stabling policy scrapped
Local politicians and Fort Erie Race Track representatives are concerned a new stabling policy will mean a loss of jobs in the racing community, and hope Woodbine Race Track can be convinced to reverse its decision. Postmedia file photo
Special to the Times
MPP Wayne Gates is hoping a stabling policy can be reversed in time to save Fort Erie’s racing season.
Gates had his chance Monday to speak with other provincial representatives about the importance of protecting the Fort Erie Race Track. The NDP representative for the Niagara riding met in Toronto with Jeff Leal, minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, and finance minister Charles Sousa. Jim Bradley, MPP for St. Catharines, joined in the meeting through a conference call with racetrack officials also participating.
The track, which has operated in Fort Erie for 120 years, has been subsidized by the town since 2010, Gates said, and since it lost its slot operations, has also received support from the province.
The new stabling policy at Woodbine, instituted in May, limits horses stabled there to one race a season at the Fort Erie track for purses below $20,000, says Gates.
With only the two thoroughbred tracks in Ontario, the new policy is “another attempt at creating a monopoly for Woodbine.”
The recent Woodbine policy decision will mean lost jobs in Fort Erie, and with fewer horses racing, fewer tourists and gamers going to the track, he said.
He urged the ministers to intervene and ask Woodbine to rescind their new stabling policy, and to ensure Fort Erie is included in the Ontario Racing Alliance, which was created to set race dates, purses, and other policies.
At Monday’s Fort Erie council-in-committee meeting, Mayor Wayne Redekop, who was in Toronto along with Gates and Ward 1 Coun. George McDermott, said the current stable plan could put Fort Erie in “significant danger” when it comes to jobs, and negatively impact economic and agricultural spinoffs.
The mayor feels the direction taken by Woodbine contradicts Premier Kathleen Wynne’s $400-million five-year plan initiated in 2013 for thoroughbred racing in Ontario, designed to create sustainability in the industry.
Redekop said he is also concerned Fort Erie, along with four other tracks in the province, are not included in the alliance, assembled by the provincial government.
“We impressed upon them the importance of putting all those tracks in the alliance,” said Redekop.
“We believe the Woodbine Entertainment policy is designed specifically to eliminate competition, which is Fort Erie.”
The meeting was productive and he hopes it will lead to results from the government, he said.
Gates said it was helpful to have Bradley participating in the meeting.
“He stressed that the track is not only of economic importance to the town of Fort Erie, but to the Niagara Region.”
The ministers understand the significance of the stabling policy, Gates said, hoping they will act quickly to make changes.
“I think they went away with a better understanding about the industry, about the alliance and about the flow of horses from Woodbine to Fort Erie and vice versa.”
He came away feeling it was a good meeting, and that Sousa will support the horse racing industry.
“I’m hoping he can make sure all tracks in Ontario stay open.”
With files from Penny Coles