Government reports support horse industry jobs claim

Ontario's decision to stop the slots-for-racing program and remove slot machines from three tracks seems to run counter to a pair of reports submitted to the province.

Horse racers, breeders and report to province claim 60,000 tied to industry

Dwight Duncan said nobody believes that 65,000 people work in the horse industry. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

The Ontario government's decision to stop the slots-for-racing program and remove slot machines from three tracks, including Windsor Raceway, seems to run counter to a pair of reports prepared for the province.

On CBC's Early Shift in Windsor, Ont. this week, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan cast doubt on the oft-repeated claim that 60,000 jobs could be lost.

"Well, those numbers are grossly exaggerated," Duncan said Wednesday.

He said "nobody" buys those numbers.

However, according to two reports submitted to the government, it's not a gross exaggeration. Four people prepared two reports submitted to two government ministries.

The government appointed an independent panel of three people in July 2007 to examine the horse racing industry and its future.

"The horse racing and breeding industry is labour intensive and supports approximately 55,000 full and part-time jobs, many of which are in the agricultural sector of Ontario and would be difficult to replace," reads, in part, a report to the Minister of Government and Consumer Services.

"According to the OLG, it's much smaller than that," Duncan said of the numbers Wednesday.

The OLG met with the panel in preparation for that report.

In a report to the Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal in 2004, it was estimated that "40,040 Ontarians owe their permanent jobs to the horse racing and horse breeding industries."

Duncan was at the CBC Windsor studio Friday. He said he was aware of only one of the reports. He refused to speculate on how many jobs are tied to the horse racing industry.

'OLG has its own reports'

Duncan said the OLG has its own reports, which he said better reflects the overall gaming industry, horse racing included, in Ontario.

Brian Tropea is with the Ontario Harness Horse Association. He plans to hand deliver the two reports to Duncan's constituency office Friday during a protest organized by those in the industry.

"Whether it's 15,000 or 60,000 we need to be protecting every job that we have in Ontario," Tropea said. "And we need to get our message out that there's a lot of spin going on here, and he's not being truthful with the people of Ontario."

The minister said the changes coming to OLG, which includes a potential casino in the Greater Toronto Area, will create 3,000 direct jobs and 7,000 indirect jobs.

"It is not a priority for the province," he said of the horse racing industry. "There will still be a horse racing industry. But we can’t continue to support 17 tracks."

Duncan said the $345-million the horse racing industry receives annually from the OLG is better spent elsewhere.

"Should I take that $345 million and put it into an industry that’s too big for Ontario or do I put it into hospitals and hire nurses and teachers? We choose nurses and teachers," Duncan said.

Approximately 30 people rallied outside Duncan's constituency office Friday. The Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association organized the protest.