On the eve of Election Day, Chatham-Kent-Leamington MPP incumbent Rick Nicholls announced that if it takes control at Queen’s Park, his party would offer support to a struggling industry in the province.
On behalf of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, Nicholls paid a visit to the Leamington municipal office on Erie Street North to declare that the party would meet with the Ontario Harness Horse Association to discuss support for the beleaguered group. Nicholls was met by Essex mayor Ron McDermott, Lakeshore mayor and Essex County warden Tom Bain, Leamington municipal councilor Larry Verbeke and other interested individuals for the early afternoon announcement.
Nicholls explained that in the event his party was chosen to replace Wynne’s Liberals in Toronto, that discussions with the OHHA would begin immediately on plans to bring SARP — the Slots At Racetracks Program — back to horse racing facilities across the province. He noted that sine discontinuing the program in 2012, the Liberals have found themselves facing a civil lawsuit regarding the changes. Nicholls also stated that court documentation revealed anticipation of 23,000 jobs lost and the deaths of 27,000 horses triggered by the governing party’s decision.
“Without warning, Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals killed the Slots At Racetrack Program, destroying the horse racing industry,” he said. “While the Ontario PCs stood up for the horse racing industry and voted against this cut, Andrea Horwath and the NDP chose to prop up the Liberals. They could have stopped this.”
Nicholls explained that an Ontario PC government would launch a group to consult with the representatives of the province’s horse racing community to bring slot machines back to tracks that include the facility in Leamington.
“On behalf of (OHHA) president Mark Williams, I’m pleased to hear this,” said Bain, who is also an executive member of the OHHA who hopes to one day see a permanent horse racing track built in Lakeshore. “It’s great news. People here know how important that program was.”
Bain went on to explain that other tracks across Ontario receive two times as much support as the facility at the Leamington Fairgrounds on Erie Street North. He also stressed the fact that because of the industry’s dire situation, an estimated 2,000 jobs could be lost locally.
“It’s not just the horse men,” Bain said. “It’s about attendants at the tracks, farmers, veterinarians, blacksmiths… there are a lot of people at risk.”
Pollsters were expecting a close race in Chatham-Kent-Leamington between Nicholls and NDP challenger Jordan McGrail. On the day before the election, Nicholls expressed eagerness to again represent constituents in CKL.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said immediately following his June 6 announcement. “You just never know — the only poll that matters is on Election Day.”
On Thursday, June 7, the province elected Conservative party leader Doug Ford as Premier while Nicholls emerged as the winner in Chatham-Kent-Leamington with a cushion of about 7,500 votes.