RUSSELL – Equine Veterinarian Dr. Garth Henry, owner of Russell Equine Veterinary Service, is a breeder of Standardbred race horses on his Hamstan Farm. Henry is well known in his field of medicine and provides his services to the racehorses at Rideau Carleton Raceway. The business, located north of Russell, offers a full line of diagnostic and laboratory services and has a training barn and track. One main focus of Henry’s is reproductive and foaling services – an aspect of his equine world that could see the most disruption with the impact of the McGuinty government’s impending changes at the province’s racetracks.
With Ontario Lottery Gaming (OLG)’s announced removal of slot machines from those facilities, Henry began in earnest to research how the withdrawal would affect not only his business, but how it would trickle down into the lives of thousands. Henry states that everyone from track owners to equipment suppliers and farmers will feel the loss because the industry is not sustainable without the large investment of cash that the slots provide.
Henry reintroduced to the current Minister of Government and Consumer Services a 2008 report — Its all about leadership: strategic vision and direction for the Ontario horse racing and breeding industry by Stanley Sadinsky — which states that the horse industry is "labour intensive and supports approximately 55,000 full and part-time jobs, many of which are in the agriculture sector of Ontario and would be difficult to replace." Funded by the government, the report "sat in a corner to collect dust," according to the veterinarian, who says if it had been read at the time, there may not be the situation facing the industry today. McGuinty now claims there are only about 5,500 affected positions.
In 1998, the deal made with the tracks and the province was not a subsidy program as the government now says, but a revenue one — worth $3.4 billion dollars. Seventy-five percent of revenue from the slots go into the pockets of the government. The other 25 per cent is divided between track owners and other groups.
Henry has met with the minister, questioning what the government’s plan is for the employees whose livelihoods could be lost. He was told that there is a retraining program planned, however Henry believes it won’t do much good. "The people who work in this industry are specialized and retraining them and the cost of that retraining won’t be much of savings to the government if any at all. The government currently has this industry in place which brings in billions — why would they want to get rid of it? The closing of tracks will happen if this is pulled out from under the horse racing industry."
Although a small piece of the pie with twelve employees on Hamstan and eight in the clinic, including two fulltime veterinarians, the doctor is a man of business who has invested heavily in the industry because it is was a fairly stable one. He has recently built a race track on his land to expand and localize the training of race horses. The on-site clinic, which can be made mobile, consists of the most modern equipment.
The decision to remove the slots has made Henry be weary of the future, and he’s dropped plans to construct a new barn, even though his current facilities are filled and there is a waiting list to get in. He has also cancelled four breeding opportunities. These cancellations have now affected not just Henry’s business, but others involved in breeding, as well as agribusinesses that supply the feed, and those who ride.