Finance Minister Darlene Compton paid tribute in the legislature recently to the long history of harness racing in the province.
"There is a long heritage of harness racing in Prince Edward Island since this industry started in 1886 in Summerside and in Charlottetown in 1888," the deputy premier said. "The harness racing industry is said to have touched every Island community over the years because of the many family members, friends and colleagues who have or are currently working at the driving park and within the industry."
She noted the province, which is often called the "Kentucky of Canada" has staged several national level events, such as the O’Brien Awards, World and National Driving Championships and of course the renowned Gold Cup and Saucer Race.
Compton noted the industry supports about 750 jobs and benefits our economy with an estimated $2.2 million in provincial tax revenues annually. That is in addition to the roughly $3.7 million in federal and municipal tax revenues that it provides annually. It is estimated that this industry alone has impacted our gross domestic product by $31.1 million.
"My grandfather, Harry Coulson, always had a race horse and was one of the characters who hung out at the raceway on Saturdays," she noted. "I found my passion for the industry at an early age, thanks to his influence. Years later, my husband and I now own and breed race horses and the industry remains an integral part of our lives."
The finance minister said the province remains committed to supporting the industry, citing support for the Prince County Horseman’s Club, the Atlantic Provinces Horse Racing Commission, the Prince Edward Island Harness Racing Industry Association and Red Shores.
"Every summer, Islanders make the pilgrimage to the Charlottetown driving park to witness one of our province’s great cultural events: the Gold Cup and Saucer Race," noted Mermaid-Stratford MLA Michele Beaton. "Expatriate Islanders have been known to schedule their trips back home around the race. Likewise, visitors from all over the world make their way to our province to take part in the annual Gold Cup and Saucer festivities and the Summerside Lobster Carnival."
The Green Party MLA praised the hard-working people in the industry for presenting a product that is world-class. She noted "We love our horses here on PEI and this is no less true of our race horses who provide not just economic value but also joy and companionship to Islanders in the industry. The humane, dignified and loving treatment of race horses by so many of these individuals is something that should be celebrated."
Cornwall-Meadowbank MLA Heath MacDonald noted "I grew up in a harness racing community surrounded by horses running in open fields and then there came developments and so on and so forth, and sometimes, you look back upon those days and you say: Wow that was pretty neat."
He praised the contribution of matinee tracks noting "I think that’s where this all starts." He praised the contribution of brothers James, Mark and Anthony MacDonald who have achieved success beyond PEI’s shores.
MacDonald also praised the hiring of David MacKenzie at Red Shores. He commended the contributions of previous ministers, including Mitch Murphy and the Wes Sheridan. He also praised breeders such as Bruce Wood, Earl Watts, Jamie MacKinley, Eldred Nicholson Blair Campbell and Blaine MacPherson.
"That’s the future. Innovation in breeding are going to be the survival of this industry for many years to come," MacDonald concluded. "We have a great base and I know the honorable minister supports that industry as much as I did when I was finance minister. We look forward to seeing it grow. "