Rural Ontario knows the pain the Region of Waterloo is feeling as they brace for the massive layoffs Blackberry has recently announced. Since the cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks Program last year, job losses and business closures in Ontario’s horse racing industry are more than double the expected worldwide losses of Blackberry as they struggle to keep their company alive.

Horse racing industry jobs and businesses related to the industry continue to disappear while the industry waits for the Wynne Government to make good on promises to integrate the industry into the OLG’s gaming strategy.

Since the announcement, made in 2012 by the former Liberal government and former OLG Chair Paul Godfrey and his Board, to abruptly end the highly successful Slots at Racetracks Program this year, the horse racing industry has lost more than 9000 jobs, and 3000 horse owners have left the industry taking with them more than $1 billion in industry investment.

Many of those who have lost their jobs in the horseracing industry have worked in the industry all their lives, some for generations. Many are not highly skilled or are ill-equipped to find new gainful employment thus creating additional stress and hardship for themselves and their families.

These figures, contained in a report by the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association (OHRIA) submitted to Government in response to the OMAFRA Horse Racing Transition Panel’s June 2013 Draft Report, were released to the media more than a month ago but have been ignored by mainstream media.

Earlier this month, in an effort to re-instill investor confidence and quell the fear of more job losses within the industry, Premier Kathleen Wynne made public a letter addressed to former cabinet ministers John Snobelen, John Wilkinson and Elmer Buchanan, a three member Horse Racing Transition Panel who are tasked with correcting the wrong-doing of her predecessor.

The letter asked for the Panel to provide advice within a comprehensive five-year plan (beginning April 2014 to March 31, 2019) to stabilize the horse racing industry and to maximize the economic benefit to Ontario. Her letter or the Panel’s plan would not have been necessary had her predecessor not scrapped the highly successful Slots at Racetracks Program which produced more than $1.2 billion in annual revenue for the Province while maintaining a vibrant horse racing industry which provides more than 55,000 jobs in the province.

The Panel’s plan is scheduled to be given to the Premier sometime in October however horse people and businesses in the industry may not be able to hang on that long.

The annual race horse breeding sales in the Province wrapped up with double digit losses for a second straight year, meaning that the Panel’s work is going to be that much harder as more and more breeders are leaving the industry or relocating to other racing jurisdictions. Those still employed within the industry are uncertain of their future and their lives remain on hold until the industry works on a solid solution with the Government Panel.

The province-wide employment and investment losses in the horse racing industry coupled with the expected job losses at Blackberry’s headquarters in Kitchener-Waterloo will put the economic viability of many rural towns and cities in the province in jeopardy. Ontarians need to be made aware of how important the horse racing industry is to Ontario’s economy and in light of the 4500 expected job losses at Blackberry, the 9000 horse racing industry job losses can no longer be ignored.