And they’re off!
In an odd twist to the Niagara Falls Riding’s provincial election race, a mayor and a race track CEO joined forces with the riding’s NDP candidate to criticize PC opponent Chuck McShane for vowing to improve the Fort Erie Race Track.
McShane made what Fort Erie Mayor Wayne Redekop and race track CEO Jim Thibert called “inflammatory” comments while introducing PC Party Leader Doug Ford at a rally in Niagara Falls earlier this week. McShane pointed out that the track has been on life support since the province pulled the plug on the track’s slot machines.
“I meant no disrespect to the good, hard working people of our local horse racing industry,” said McShane. “There was a time, with the slots, the track didn’t need the government handouts and it was not only self sustaining, it was thriving. I’m not surprised my NDP opponent is satisfied with the track getting by on government handouts but I for one am not. Our local horse racing industry deserves better.”
McShane said the track needs the slots to return in order to make capital improvements and achieve the growth it deserves. “What I meant by life support is that the track is not currently self-sustaining. You take away that government funding and what happens?”
“They just misunderstood what I was saying. I’m on their side, I want to get the slots back to the track and return it to the glory years. It’s a beautiful track with well over a century of horse racing history and we need to ensure it’s sustainable for another century,” added McShane. McShane said he has met with FELRC and is surprised to hear that their position on this has changed.
“It was the PC party that put the slots in Fort Erie and saved the track in the first place and we will do our best to get them back there,” added McShane. “It’s the best long-term solution.”
McShane said he has met with current owner Carl Paladino to discuss the future of the track in Fort Erie. “I have met with Mr. Paladino, and he told me that a big reason he bought the track was on the promise of the slots coming back and the NASCAR facility going forward. He would invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the track if those promises were fulfilled. Sadly, for the people of Fort Erie, they have not been. The owners have had four years of disappointment on those fronts,” continued McShane.
The way spokesperson Bill Paladino sees it, the operating funding for the Fort Erie track receives does not address the infrastructure upgrades that are desperately needed. “There needs to be significant infrastructure improvements to clean up the track and make it as attractive as it was when I went as a child. It was a beautiful track,” said Paladino.
Paladino said his company is very much willing to invest in the track and surrounding area but they need a sprinkle of hope from the Ontario government. “We believe this track is important to the area for tourism and for the community but it needs to be a partnership,” he explained. He points to the example in Buffalo where a little bit of government funding lead to a lot of private investment.
Carl Paladino went one step further in an interview with Buffalo’s WFBO 88.7 radio when he said, “…it was really dumb to pull the casino gambling out of the track a few years back. Now they have to subsidize the track with about $9 million a year and they’re doing everything they can to put it out of business. So from our perspective, we’re going to see what the market is. If the Conservatives win, we will not sell the track.”
In a 2013 interview with the Hamilton Spectator, Thibert himself said it would be hard for the track to be sustainable with the slots gone. Referring to a report by the provincial Horse Racing Transition Panel that said the Fort Erie Race Track is unsustainable, Thibert said, ““They made us unsustainable. They took the slots away and then they turn around and count that against us when none of the other tracks would be sustainable without slots either.”
The PC candidate added that there is no doubt through the hard work of Fort Erie’s Mayor and the track’s CEO that progress has been made but there is much more that could be done and he’s not convinced, given what is happening in Ajax, that the track can just rest on government promises. “The town of Ajax is facing major job losses as the Liberal government is ripping the slots out of their track and the jobs that go with them,” said McShane.
Ajax Mayor Steve Parrish told the Niagara Independent that only the PC’s have offered support to save his town’s track. “It’s not over yet as far as we are concerned.” The mayor said he has had support from the local PC candidate and from PC leader Doug Ford. Despite writing to all party leaders he has heard nothing from NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. “I don’t think our community is a priority for them.”
In March of this year, when asked about the Fort Erie situation, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was unable to provide a firm answer on the future of slots at the Fort Erie racetrack. She was quoted as saying, “I’m tied by what the government has currently done and I have to have a look at that stuff before I can unequivocally say yes, we can definitely do that.”