Windsor

Ontario Harness Horse Association funding cut, operations to fold

Ontario Racing has announced that Central Ontario Standardbred Association will open its membership to all horse people across Ontario in April.

Horse people will need to join a different association for benefits

Ontario Harness Horse Association's funding will be ceased March 31 this year. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Funding to the Ontario Harness Horse Association (OHHA) will be cut March 31.

Ontario Racing announced that instead, the Central Ontario Standardbred Association (COSA) will be extending its benefits program to all Ontario horse people.

Currently, the association only represents those racing at Woodbine Mohawk Park.

OHHA general manager Brian Tropea said horse people won't have a voice under COSA, because the association was "handpicked" by Woodbine Entertainment Group.

"This would be the equivalent of Chrysler deciding on which union their workers were going to belong to, and choosing which union they have the best opportunity to manipulate," said Tropea.

OHHA's operations are funded through a voluntary deduction from members' prize money, which amounted to roughly $750,000 a year, he said. That is done through individual contracts between the association and racetracks.

Tom Bain says OHHA has done a good job representing its members so far. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

The next step now would be for OHHA to contact its 2,600 members, because many of them participate in the benefits programs offered through the association. Out of those members, roughly 1,000 are from southwestern Ontario.

A spokesperson from Ontario Racing said the negotiated race days at Leamington, Hiawatha and Dresden will be honoured, even with the funding cut.

When asked why funding will be cut from the OHHA, CBC News was told COSA is a member of Ontario Racing, and "therefore the official representative" of the province's horse people.

Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain, a member of the town's horse racing association, worries what the demise of the OHHA will mean for horse people in southwestern Ontario.

Brian Tropea says COSA wouldn't be able to properly represent its members. (Associated Press)

"[OHHA is] the voice of those local horse people and losing that voice, we feel quite strongly could end in the termination of horse racing down here in southwestern Ontario," said Bain.

Tropea said he would be shocked if a government official doesn't step in and put a halt to Ontario Racing's decision.

"It's an easy fix. All they need to do is put a process in place for the horse people to have that democratic arrangement where they can choose who they want to represent them."

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