Meeting the needs of the sectors we regulate through modern regulation, service excellence and a people first approach
In so many ways, 2019–2020 was a momentous year for the AGCO. It was a year that began with several noteworthy achievements as the agency boldly advanced its ambitious strategic plan.
As the fourth fiscal quarter ended, we, like the rest of the world, refocused our efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. From seamlessly moving to remote work to providing responsive, frontline service to championing rapid regulatory changes, our response to this crisis accelerated the changes we were already leading to modernize the organization and transform our regulatory frameworks. I am proud with how our agency – and of course our staff – responded so quickly and effectively to help the sectors we regulate. Everyone at the AGCO was so genuinely concerned for, and attentive to, the individuals, families, businesses, and communities affected by this pandemic. We remained committed to supporting the provincial government with its greater public health objectives, while focused on doing our best to make life safer and easier for our customers and employees.
Our ability to respond so quickly to the pandemic was in large part due to the multi-year, transformative journey we began several years ago. We have been strategic and deliberate in our efforts to revolutionize our approach to regulation, foster a modern workplace, and put Ontarians first in all we do. The renewed strategic priorities we confirmed earlier in the fiscal year sum it up: Modern Regulator, Service Excellence and People First. This direction proved particularly useful in guiding our response to the pandemic and focusing our efforts to meet the needs of the sectors we regulate as they reopen and operate within the new economy.
However, this past fiscal year was not all about the pandemic. It began with many important achievements, including the opening of the province’s first 10 cannabis retail stores on April 1, 2019. This milestone was the culmination of our efforts of the previous year, working collaboratively with the provincial government to implement the legislation and regulations for private cannabis retail, as well as establish a set of regulatory standards to guide these new operators. The licensing of cannabis stores continued throughout the year, including through a second allocation process in August 2019. In December 2019, the government announced the move to an open market and in January 2020, the AGCO began accepting and processing applications for retail operator licences from all comers.
As part of our ongoing commitment to modernize the charitable gaming sector, we introduced new options for charities to seed or guarantee prizes for Catch the Ace progressive raffles. We worked collaboratively with the Ontario Charitable Gaming Association and Break Open Ticket Program Management Alliance to approve two new break open ticket types that would help eligible charitable and religious organizations raise funds to support their charitable purposes.
In the horse racing sector, the health and safety of all horse racing participants – both equine and human – remained a top priority for the AGCO. Several horse racing welfare and integrity reforms were implemented in 2019-2020, including a ban on the use of race day medications and a concussion protocol pilot for jockeys at Woodbine and Fort Erie racetracks. Revised rules on urging horses in Standardbred, Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing were also introduced this year. These reforms are designed to preserve and enhance the integrity of the sport, the welfare of the horse, the safety of its participants, and to safeguard and protect the interests of the betting public and the public at large.
Pressing ahead with our Digital by Default strategy to support our modern regulatory approach, we continued the rollout of our iAGCO online portal with the launch of services for horse racing this year. This allows these sector participants to join our other licensees and registrants in conducting all of their transactions with the agency online, anytime and from anywhere.
Combining the AGCO’s digital service offerings with our risk-based licensing approach has also allowed us to reduce wait times for many customers. As of March 31, 2020, 42% of liquor licences and authorizations, 59% of gaming applications and 95% of Special Occasion Permit applications have been automatically issued or automatically renewed to low-risk applicants. With each auto-issue and auto-renewal, Ontarians are avoiding red tape and getting faster service.
The AGCO also continued to focus on driving value and efficiencies. The broad-based, red tape burden reduction work of our Value Task Force helped us continue to reimagine our processes, programs and policies both organizationally and for the industries we regulate. We strengthened our customer service and stakeholder engagement efforts by continuing to be attentive and responsive to the needs of our stakeholders. And we enhanced our regulatory intelligence and data analytic capabilities to efficiently target the areas of highest risk to public confidence and safety in the industries that we regulate. We also identified top regulatory reform opportunities across all of our business lines while bringing social responsibility to the forefront of our work.
The AGCO has been very fortunate to have long-standing stability at the C-Suite level, with each member of the executive team being central to our evolution as an organization. This year, a number of our key executives announced their retirement plans for 2020. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the years of remarkable service of Chief Administrative Officer, Teresa Tedesco, and Director, Legal Services and General Counsel, Craig Slater.
In February of this year, after 16 years at the helm of the AGCO, I too advised the Board of Directors of my intention to retire in 2020. It has been a privilege to lead this organization and I’m proud of all we have accomplished together for the people and businesses of Ontario. Changes in leadership are an inevitable part of any organization. New leaders will bring fresh perspectives and different approaches, and I have the utmost confidence that the AGCO’s modernization journey will continue to benefit Ontarians and every sector we regulate.
Chief Executive Officer