Embracing change as a modern regulator to support our stakeholders and the people of Ontario during the COVID-19 pandemic
This past year has truly been one like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic continued to rock all of the industries and sectors we regulate, as well as all aspects of our business. From emergency orders that reduced business hours, to closures, to stay-at-home orders – necessary public health measures have had a significant impact on our licensees, registrants and the people of Ontario.
During this extraordinary time, the AGCO showed its ability to nimbly respond to the pandemic, both as a regulator and as an employer. We focused on the health and safety of our employees and our workplaces, all while maintaining vigilance to protect the public interest and leading efforts to support the industries and sectors we regulate. We directed our efforts at ensuring Ontarians had access to the goods and services provided by our licensees and registrants in the midst of the pandemic.
To support all licensees, registrants and authorization holders, with the Government we automatically extended all active liquor, gaming, cannabis and horse racing licences, registrations and authorizations, at no cost.
To further help authorized cannabis retail stores cope during the province-wide state of emergency, we worked with government to enable their switch to offering delivery and curbside pickup. With the government’s approval, we were able to increase our issuance rate of cannabis Retail Store Authorizations (RSAs) from five to thirty per week. As of March 31, 2021, the AGCO had authorized 706 cannabis retail stores in Ontario.
In response to government emergency orders, the AGCO assisted hospitality sector industry workers and businesses by allowing liquor sales licensees to sell beer, wine and spirits with food takeout and delivery. We also lowered the minimum price for spirits ordered with food for takeout and delivery and made it easier for cideries to sell directly to consumers.
The AGCO supported additional government liquor reforms by allowing bars and restaurants to temporarily extend their outdoor patio spaces to safely accommodate patrons and staff, once licensed establishments were permitted to reopen for business.
Our Racing Reform team continued to protect the integrity of horse racing by focusing on the advancement of the health and welfare of horses and people. This included the implementation of a Concussion Protocol at Ontario’s Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racetracks and, in response to industry requests, increased jockey weight restrictions and reduced qualification requirements for Standardbreds.
When charitable gaming facilities were forced to close to the public, the AGCO expanded payment options for paper-based bingo facilities and increased flexibility for Bingo Revenue Model licences. We also modernized our service channels and enhanced customer experience by launching online services for charitable lottery licensees and electronic gaming equipment submissions.
To protect the public, our Compliance Officials took steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by inspecting high-risk areas and businesses to ensure compliance with emergency orders.
In the November 2020 Budget, the Government of Ontario announced that the province would conduct and manage a regulated internet gaming (igaming) market through a subsidiary of the AGCO. We are now actively working with the province to develop a competitive online gaming model that will foster an exciting gaming experience, protect consumers, and support market growth.
In response to the Auditor General of Ontario’s Value for Money audit of the AGCO, we developed an action plan to address the recommendations over the next two years. This included producing the AGCO’s 2020–21 Statement of Revenue and Expenditures which is included in this Annual Report.
Late last year, our former CEO and Registrar, Jean Major, announced his retirement after 35 years of public service and 16 years at the helm of the AGCO. Jean’s retirement took effect during this past fiscal year, and I joined the AGCO’s Board and staff in expressing our deep appreciation to Jean for all his contributions to this agency and to the industries and sectors we serve.
Following other C-Suite retirements, this year, we were delighted to welcome new leadership team members Liz Yeigh, Corporate Secretary and Chief Strategy Officer; Alison Jevons, OPP Chief Superintendent; Bruce Caughill, Chief Legal Officer; Navid Forouzesh, Chief Information Officer; and Joe Pittari, Chief Administrative Officer.
This past year has strengthened our commitment to support the growth of our people, deliver service excellence, expand our diversity, inclusion and accessibility efforts, and be digital-first in our approach. I am proud of our organizational efforts to embrace change and provide leadership in the face of all the challenges we confronted.
Building on our successes, we have set our sights on even greater modernization milestones for the years to come. With a strong team, robust plan, and proven track record in place, we are well positioned to confront the challenges that lie ahead.