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Feb 15, 2013  |  Vote 0    0

Wynne urged to save horse racing jobs at Woodbine, across Ontario

Premier defends transitional funding to make industry ‘more financially sustainable’

Etobicoke Guardian

The Public Service Alliance of Canada is calling on Premier Kathleen Wynne to intervene to protect racetrack jobs in the wake of Woodbine Entertainment Group’s announcement this week of more than 100 layoffs.

Woodbine’s layoffs at both its racetracks represent about 25 per cent of salaried positions, necessary the company said, after coming to an agreement with the province on a confidential two-year deal for transitional funding following the loss of the lucrative Slots at Racetracks program.

Sharon DeSousa, the alliance’s Ontario regional executive vice-president, warned Friday racetrack job layoffs across Ontario will continue unless the government changes course.

“Premier Wynne has to act now to protect the good paying jobs Ontario’s horse racing industry sustains,” DeSousa said in a statement.

“It is clear across the province that racetracks are not going to be able to maintain their current staffing levels if the government replaces the Slots at Racetracks Program with lease agreements, as has been agreed to at more than 10 tracks.”

The layoffs at Woodbine include top-level executives, as well as front-line employees, Nick Eaves, Woodbine CEO said in a statement Wednesday.

The confidential transitional funding the government has offered Woodbine is not enough, Eaves said, noting the company has taken steps to reduce costs and achieve efficiencies by introducing a new operating model.

Last March, the government announced an end to the Slots at Racetracks program this March 31, which provided $345 million to the horse racing industry annually.

Wynne, who is also the government’s minister of agriculture and food, was unavailable for comment Friday.

But a spokesperson for the premier said Wynne is committed to a sustainable horse racing industry that will protect jobs across the province.

Wynne will work with Jeff Leal, minister of rural affairs, to implement the model recommended by the horse racing transition panel.

“The government is providing transition funding to race tracks in order to facilitate the transformation of the horse racing industry,” a spokesperson for the premier said in a statement Friday. “We believe that these changes will make the industry more financially sustainable and accountable going forward.”

This week, Woodbine chairman Jim Lawson said restructuring was “absolutely necessary” for the company’s survival.

“WEG and its government partners must continue to work together in order to achieve the only sustainable solution – the integration of horse racing into Ontario’s overall gaming strategy, which needs to include expanded gaming, operated by WEG, at Woodbine and Mohawk racetracks,” Lawson said in a statement.

When the government announced a year ago it would terminate the Slots at Racetracks program, Eaves expressed Woodbine’s interest in hosting a casino at its Woodbine racetrack location as soon as possible.

“WEG has long held the position that Woodbine is the logical location for a casino in the Greater Toronto Area,” Eaves said in a statement. “Clearly there is significant gaming customer interest at Woodbine Racetrack, with over six million visitors annually.”

- With files from Cynthia Reason

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