MITCHELL, Ont. – Premier Kathleen Wynne admitted Tuesday that the Liberal government’s moves to cut funding to the horse racing industry and allow industrial wind turbines to dot the landscape may not have been the right ones for rural Ontario.
“We have acknowledged that there were decisions made that were not necessarily in the best interests of the industry or rural communities,” Wynne said at the annual International Plowing Match in Mitchell, Ont.
The premier was greeted by anti-wind power protesters as she rode a float in the opening parade at the huge agricultural fair. The government has changed the approvals process to give local communities more of a say in the location of green energy projects, she said.
“My message as I was coming along on the float, on the truck, was to say ‘we’re putting a new process in place. We actually have heard you,'” said Wynne.
“I have paid very close attention to this file. I am concerned that we get it right, that we have a better up front process, and that’s why the process has changed.”
However, critics point out local municipalities in Ontario still don’t have a veto to block wind farms or large-scale solar panel installations in their community.
The Liberals were also under fire for cutting a $340-million annual subsidy to the horse racing sector, which the industry viewed as its share of revenues from slot machines at race tracks.
“The fact is there were some issues – and a couple of them have been raised today – that created a bit of a lightning rod for some discontent and some concerns, and I don’t deny that,” said Wynne.
“I understand that wind turbines and the horse racing industry are two that created very high profile concerns in the rural communities, but those are things that we have worked to rectify.”
Ontario’s horse racing industry will be smaller than in the past, but it will benefit from being linked with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming agency, said Wynne.
“There can be an integration of the revenue streams, there can be a better conversation about how do the other gaming endeavours and horse racing co-exist,” she said.
“I don’t know exactly what that will mean in the end, but to have horse racing out on its own without access to that broader (gambling) industry, I think was a problem.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak told people attending the plowing match that he would eliminate red tape that is making it difficult for farmers to operate.
“Why does it take permission from almost six ministries for a farmer to build a new barn,” wondered Hudak. “I promise that, within three years of being premier, farmers in this province will be free from those onerous regulations.”
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