Wellington County Warden Chris White is saying a quick “whoa” to rural groups planning to attend the county meeting on May 29 to talk about issues other than the equine industry.
Last week’s article in the Wellington Advertiser “went viral” White said in an interview on Monday afternoon.
He said when the discussion about the province’s plans to cut off funding for the horse industry by moving slots and casinos to cities arose at county council, councillors were quick to pile on and mention many other grievances the rural area has had with the provincial government.
Callers to the Advertiser office from well outside of the county suggested Aboyne Hall would not be big enough to hold all the people planning to attend from across Ontario. White said a stadium might not be large enough to hear all the rural grievances – but this meeting is not for that purpose.
He said his phone and email have been inundated, but he does not want to lose focus on what the county really called the meeting for in the first place.
“The resolution we passed was to get a snapshot of the equine industry,” White said, adding the meeting will be “a one-item agenda. Tell us the impacts on equine” that will be felt now that the province is removing its share of the slots cash from the horse racing industry.
White said he understands there are lots of other rural grievances there, and mentioned wind turbines and the mega quarry proposal for Melancthon Township in particular.
“Obviously, we would like support from other groups,” he said. “We empathize with all these other issues … but I’m afraid we’re going to lose the people I’m looking for” from the horse industry. “I’ve had lots of calls and I don’t want to lose focus.”
He added it is not the place of county council to organize a group to oppose the provincial government, a body with which the county has to work. Further, he said, there are councillors of all political persuasions sitting at council and he has no desire to see government party supporters upset either.
“We got into a discussion,” he said of last month’s county council meeting, adding, “There is a fear the equine issue could get lost” among all the rural grievances.
White said he talked to one equine operator from the Erin area who employs a dozen people, and learned that employer will have to cut the jobs back to four if the Liberal proposal to take cash away from the horse industry is approved.
He said it is data like that the county is seeking to take to Queen’s Park in order to persuade the government to reconsider its decision.
“We need to influence and persuade,” White said. “To have a mass rally; I’m not sure that would go.”
White said the Advertiser report accurately reflected the discussion at county council. “I know we got into a broader discussion, but with equine, a line was crossed.”
White said the county can do little about some issues, and cited wind turbines as one in particular about which it has very little say – but when jobs start disappearing, the county has to speak up.
“People are actually going to lose their jobs,” he said. “We want an accurate picture.”
He said he will likely ask the province “Why not leave the existing structure in place?” and then place more slots and casinos in cities as they are needed.
The OLG, which runs slots and casinos, is planning to move slots and casinos to urban areas where there is a larger customer base.
Local politicians have seen that as a cynical move, after the province begged rural areas to accept slots over a decade ago. Now that many people have seen few problems develop and the cash they generate, they no longer oppose them, but now the OLG and the province are planning to take them to more populous markets.
White said the approach to the province is going to be, “You might not have all the information.”
He added the government should “do a little more homework” because, “This one hits us.”
White said the direct effect on Wellington County could run as high as $49 million and “hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs.”