Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NDP can't break this horse: MJC

Province expected club to cave, suit says

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TUCKED amidst the growing mountain of court filings and allegations of criminality in the case of Manitoba Jockey Club Inc. vs The Government of Manitoba and Finance Minister Stan Struthers et. al is one inescapable conclusion.

The NDP hopelessly underestimated the resolve of the Manitoba Jockey Club to continue to stage live thoroughbred horse racing at Assiniboia Downs.

And that has made Struthers, who will announce in his budget next week that he is stripping the track of its VLTs, very, very angry.

According to notes of a meeting between Struthers and Manitoba Jockey Club officials on Feb. 28 -- the notes were assembled by MJC CEO Darren Dunn and form part of his sworn affidavit in the Jockey Club's suit against the province -- Struthers was outraged to learn that the MJC would not simply be turning over the keys to the Downs to the Red River Exhibition, as the province had expected the MJC to do.

"By telling people that I am putting tax dollars into hospitals and schools instead of horses... I have already won the public opinion vote," Dunn quotes Struthers as saying in the meeting. "So if you want to go there, I am prepared... I am a politician -- this is what I do -- if you want a public fight I am ready -- and we will win -- no question."

Informed by the MJC during the meeting that the Downs had no intention of turning over their property to the Ex and had instead a signed agreement to explore a partnership with the Peguis First Nation that would include building two new hotels and a conference centre on the Downs site, a livid Struthers accused the MJC of being duped by Peguis into backing the band's demand for a casino license.

"This is about Peguis getting a casino and that's not going to happen -- and Glenn (Peguis chief Glenn Hudson) knew that," Struthers thundered.

Hudson flatly rejected Struthers' allegation when he was contacted by the Free Press Friday, saying that he will happily proceed with the new developnment with or without a casino license.

"Certainly. We're in business and as part of our portfolio, we're looking at getting into commercial ventures," said Hudson. "As part of our mandate and economic development portfolio, this project is certainly something we're interested in."

A request to interview Struthers Friday was denied by a spokesman. Asked if Dunn's recounting of Struthers' comments were accurate, a spokesman replied only that the Jockey Club's suit in general is "without merit."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2013 C8

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