Ontario’s Ombudsman declines full investigation into end of slots at raceways program

Ontario Ombudsman André Marin. File photo

Ontario Ombudsman André Marin. File photo

TORONTO – Ontario’s Ombudsman has decided against an investigation into the province’s decision to end a program that helps offset to fund the horse racing industry.

André Marin received more than 350 complaints about the province’s announcement last March, which stemmed from recommendations in the Drummond Report that were used to help shape its 2012 budget.

The Ombudsman assigned a team of investigators to conduct an in-depth assessment of the complaints and issues, interviewing dozens of horse owners, trainers and many other people whose livelihoods were affected by the decision. They also interviewed senior officials in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) and reviewed a large volume of documents relating to the decision.

“We recognize that the government’s decision has created an enormous level of uncertainty in the horse racing industry,” Marin says in a letter sent to all complainants. Nevertheless, he says, the government’s decision was a matter of “broad public policy” and is “not the type of decision that would normally be subject to scrutiny by the Ombudsman.”

“The Ombudsman does not substitute his views for the judgment of elected representatives, who are responsible for setting broad public policy. Under the Ombudsman Act, his investigations focus on government administration,” Marin said.

The Ombudsman’s review found the decision was made after the OLG’s own strategic business review, which included stakeholder consultation – and it was considered by a committee of the Legislature as part of the 2012 budget bill. Since then, the Ministry continues to deal with issues of transitional funding for racetracks and the OLG has negotiated to retain slots at some racetracks after the program ends at the end of this month. Premier Kathleen Wynne announced additional changes March 8.

The Office of the Ombudsman has conducted some 30 systemic investigations since 2005, sparking numerous government reforms, including an overhaul of OLG lottery security and its investigations of “insider” wins.

Marin’s full letter can be found here.

The OLG provides $337.5 million yearly to the horseracing industry and $110.6 million to host municipalities, according to its 2010-2011 annual report. That year, it gave $613,000 to the host Municipality of Central Huron, $1.2 million to Clinton Raceway, which owns the building that houses the Slots, and $1.2 million for the horse people’s purse account.

Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson has said the end of the slots at raceways programs demonstrates that “Toronto Liberals” don’t understand rural Ontario.

A three-year transitional deal for Clinton, Western Fair, Hanover and Grand River raceways announced by the province last week, was short on details, like how much money would be contributed to boost purse accounts for race winners and how many race dates each track will be allocated. It is expected details will be released once the province has negotiated agreements with all not-for-profit racetracks.

Written by on March 19, 2013 in Central Huron, Clinton - No comments

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