Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I've been in the horse-racing industry and community for more than 40 years, and I currently have the privilege of being the chair and president of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. I've also held various other positions across the industry.
In 2012, I also had the privilege of being chair of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association when the industry faced a financial crisis due to the Government of Ontario's decision to end the slots at racetracks program, which at the time was the funding model used by government to support the horse-racing industry.
This one decision nearly killed the horse-racing industry. The industry seemed to be collapsing right before my eyes, and I won't go into the very sad details, including the welfare of the horses and the sheer worry of the thousands of families. Fortunately, we were able to show the government the devastation caused by this decision, and an alternative financial solution was provided.
I reference this time in our history only because while we support Bill C-218 and the legalization of sports betting, it reminds me of that devastation we faced and the potential devastation we could face again, with both horse racing and breeding, if the federal government does not include language to protect the industry, much as Bill C-13 did.
To further explain my significant concern regarding the unintended consequences the industry could face, it's important to understand that the costs associated with horse racing are substantial. This is true both for racetrack operators and for owners and breeders.
If it were permitted for an organization other than a racetrack operator to take legal, fixed-odds bets on horse racing without paying any of these substantial costs, then the business model the entire industry sits on would be completely broken.
Due to the investments made by horse owners and racetrack operators and support from the government, the horse-racing and breeding industry supports more than 50,000 jobs across the country. Many of these jobs are blue collar in rural Ontario. Most of these workers have spent their entire lives working on farms with horses and would have a difficult time finding another career should the industry be drastically reduced.
Our farmers, owners, trainers, breeders and caretakers are only a small part of the jobs and economic activity we create. We also employ veterinarians, blacksmiths, jockeys, contractors, trainers and physiotherapists. In addition, we build barns, arenas, fences and running sheds. We plough fields, we plant crops, and we buy tractors, vans and pickup trucks. We produce $5.7 billion annually in economic activity. I would say this is an industry more than worthy of protecting. I want to reiterate the $5.7 billion in economic activity and 50,000 jobs.
I've spent a fair amount of time speaking about the people and the families whose livelihoods depend on this industry. We must also consider the horses. The product is a living, breathing equine requiring 24-7 care, which is very labour intensive. If our people can't earn their living through horse racing, they will lose the income needed to take care of their livestock.
As an industry, we must do all we can to convince you that the language that protects the parimutuel bet must be reinserted into Bill C-218. If this wording is not reinstated in the bill, the horse-racing industry along with the 50,000 jobs it supports will be destroyed.
The horse-racing industry has a long and successful history of working with government and its agencies. We've established a good working relationship with the AGCO and the CPMA, which licenses racetracks and oversees the parimutuel betting. We are committed to continuing to work with both levels of government to maximize the return to government while doing the same for horse racing.
Horse racing has a proud worldwide history. Canada has produced some of the greatest race horses that have ever lived, including the great Northern Dancer.
I believe our government has a responsibility and a duty to the industry and the 50,000 Canadians who make their living in rural communities to include language in the bill to ensure a vibrant horse-racing industry alongside a brand new sports-betting industry that could become equally productive in generating jobs and economic activity.
Respectfully, this is the right thing to do.
Thank you, Madam Chair.