House of Commons Hansard #69 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was human.

Topics

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

February 27th, 2003 / 3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Parrish Mississauga Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order to express my regret over inappropriate comments that I made outside the House yesterday. These are difficult and frustrating times for everyone. I share a fear of imminent war experienced by many Canadians. That fear and frustration do not justify my comments. I sincerely regret having made them and I have made a fully apology to Mr. Cellucci, the U.S. ambassador to Canada.

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3:20 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria for the Secretary of State (Amateur Sport) and Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved the second reading of, and concurrence in, amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-12, an act to promote physical activity and sport.

Mr. Speaker, I will participate only briefly on this item because another member wants to make her comments.

We know that at first the amendments as presented to us by the other place were not appreciated by Canada's athletic community.

I am told that the sports community has had the time to examine these amendments. It now supports the amendments as presented by the Senate or, at least, they are able to reach a consensus.

Under such circumstances and with the support, I think, of all sides of the House, I am pleased to indicate that the government also intends to support these amendments and recommends that they be passed by the House of Commons.

The amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-12 are now agreeable to the House. We intend to support them and to concur in them as I have indicated a moment ago.

I understand that there are a few other brief comments to be made. I am sure that the athletic and sports community in Canada is enthusiastically awaiting our support. If we were to provide that support early today I understand that the bill could receive royal assent in a few days. I hope that we all cooperate in order to do that.

I would like to thank all hon. members and the critics from the other side of the House who have cooperated with the hon. secretary of state on this issue. The secretary of state is very pleased that the bill will finally come to pass and that it will be the new law of Canada very soon.

We wish to thank everyone involved in the amateur sport community for their tremendous contribution, and the preparation and the adoption of the bill.

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3:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are prepared to let the bill pass later this day, get it back to the Senate, and approved in time to not only help our athletes prepare for things like the Olympics but also to prepare Canadians to exhibit more healthy lifestyles. We must encourage Canadians to engage in sporting activities, to use that as a reason to encourage one another to cut back on some of our health costs, and to have a healthier Canadian population.

I have a couple of points though about the Senate amendments. The Senate put back into the bill a clause which we took out in the House of Commons committee. The purpose of the bill is to help our athletes and to promote healthy living by Canadians, but the Senate put another clause back in that changes the purpose of the bill to also promote bilingualism.

Bilingualism is certainly something that is a Canadian reality. No one is fussing with that but it is a mistake to use a bill, which primarily should be about sport, as an excuse to promote bilingualism. This should be about promoting sports with all Canadians regardless of their linguistic backgrounds, whether English or French. It should not be about the bilingualism policy of Canada. That is a separate issue and we wish the government would have kept that separate.

It was a mistake to put that clause back in, but nevertheless we will allow the bill to go through. It is not something that should hold it up, but again we believe it is a mistake. The government does make this mistake from time to time.

The other thing that cannot go without passing comment is that we encourage the government to support our Olympic athletes. We thank the government for reversing its stand that it would help our Olympic athletes only if the 2010 Olympic bid did go through. Thankfully the government saw the error of its ways in time to send the proper message to our elite athletes that not only would it support them with this new bill but it would also support them with that minimum financial support regardless of whether athletes are fighting for Olympic gold here in Canada or in some other location.

Having said that, all of us in the House are confident that the 2010 Vancouver Olympic bid would be successful, this bill not being a major part of it but nonetheless supportive of that 2010 bid.

We will let the bill go through. Let us get on with not only a healthier lifestyle for all Canadians, but with supporting our athletes from coast to coast who compete in international games both at the amateur and elite levels.

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3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Caroline St-Hilaire Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to take part in today's debate on amendments from the other place to Bill C-12.

First, given what is at stake, I hope that the Secretary of State for Amateur Sports, who has said that he is concerned with the future of our athletes, is listening to everything being said here in the House.

The merits of this bill are not in question. After holding numerous consultations, the federal government has finally responded to the expectations of the sports community by introducing a modern, updated bill, which makes sports and physical a central feature of our daily lives and our health.

Inspired by Canada's sports policy, which aims, in particular, to increase participation, support excellence and develop potential, this bill will become the strategic framework for federal government policies on sports and physical activities.

Despite this expression of willingness to serve the interests of the population and the sports community, I would like to mention a few extremely important points.

First, there is the thorny issue of the official languages. This bill contains certain provisions on official languages. But we will be responsible for ensuring that the principles it contains are respected and turned into concrete action.

The flaws as far as official languages are concerned are more of a concern to me and most certainly are nothing new. In June 1999, I filed a complaint with the Commissioner of Official Languages, asking for an investigation of the situation of francophone athletes in elite amateur sport in Canada. This was a follow-up to the hearings of the sub-committee on sport and the discrimination I had witnessed.

The commissioner's report indicated that our complaint was justified and clearly demonstrated that francophone athletes were markedly disadvantaged in the present sport system in Canada.

In the year 2000, the commissioner tabled a report containing 16 recommendations to be implemented by April 1, 2001. We are not far from April 1, 2003, yet the report's recommendations have barely been addressed. This is a major cause for concern and is one of the reasons that the Bloc Quebecois has strongly urged that there to be some clear indication in Bill C-12 of respect for official languages.

Energetic measures are needed immediately so that francophone athletes in Canada do not have to leave their language behind in the dressing room if they want to get on to the podium.

This is why I am so pleased with the amendments made in the other place. They are, in fact, a reflection of the commissioner's recommendations.

The first amendment addresses the principle of linguistic duality. According to the commissioner, the principle of linguistic duality, a fundamental characteristic of Canadian society, needs to be part of the preamble to the bill, on an equal footing with the other important advantages of physical activity and sport.

The other amendment, moreover, refers to a crucial clause in the bill, since it relates to the financial assistance the minister can provide through grants and contributions. These are the sources of funding for the sport organizations which were the object of my complaint. They have demonstrated—and in a number of cases still do—some serious shortcomings as far as respect for official languages is concerned.

With this addition, the minister will have to exercise his powers in accordance with parts IV and VII of the Official Languages Act which, among other things, requires the government to enhance the vitality of francophone and anglophone minorities.

These two are important prerequisites for encouraging and imposing respect of both official languages.

Another aspect to which I wish to draw your attention is the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre. We have already voiced some concerns about certain aspects of the centre. I will not revisit them here, except for one.

One of the key elements of the bill is without a doubt the creation of the sport dispute resolution centre. Although we are convinced of the importance of this centre for athletes, namely with regard to timeframes for settling disputes and the exorbitant costs of legal proceedings, we have certain reservations about the minister's power to make appointments to the board of directors.

Like the sporting community, we think that creating a board of directors is an excellent idea. However, this board must reflect the diversity and backgrounds of all the athletes, and must be equitable, and respectful of linguistic duality.

This board of directors, which will be required to decide on the centre's policy directions, will have to be impartial and transparent, two fundamental values for ensuring confidence in the centre's integrity and especially its independence.

The Secretary of State for Amateur Sport told the sports community of his intention to hold an extensive consultation before appointing a board of directors. I intend to follow this consultation very closely.

Furthermore, still in reference to this centre, two amendments were proposed by the upper chamber requiring the minister to table a copy of the business plan and the annual report in each House.

I would like to reassure the sports community that these amendments are not meant to take away from the centre's independence. It is imperative to preserve the centre's independence. This measure is not aimed at interfering in the management of the centre, but at strengthening Parliament's control over the management of public funds. The centre's accountability to Parliament is not synonymous with interference by parliamentarians. The purpose of the amendments is to make the centre accountable to Parliament.

Finally, one last issue that is of particular concern to me is the funds that are necessary to achieve the bill's objectives. Even though we support this legislation, I want to remind the secretary of state about something that is very to truly achieving the stated objectives. It is all fine and well to pass an act promoting physical activity and excellence, but if, in the end, we do not provide the sport community with adequate funding, this will be disappointing for athletes.

In this regard, the federal government has just missed a great opportunity to demonstrate its willingness to provide the sport community with the necessary tools. We were also very disappointed with the Secretary of State for Amateur Sport, as we were with the budget, because he was not at all upset by the measly amount of money earmarked for athletes and the sport community. The base budget of $75 million was not even increased, despite the fact that Athletes CAN and members of the sport community recommended that the government double Sport Canada's budget, to increase it to $150 million.

But nothing was doubled, not even a loonie. Yet, during an awareness campaign held last fall, these athletes took the trouble to come here to meet the parliamentarians of this House. Moreover, in January, during a brief discussion with top level athletes, the Prime Minister recognized the importance of sport and physical activity.

The Prime Minister could at least have asked the Minister of Finance to take action, so that some money, some hard cash, would follow. On the contrary, these athletes only got a pittance, a measly $10 million over a two year period for high performance athletes. And had it not been for the outrage of the sport community and my own representations through the media, these funds would still be conditional on the 2010 Olympic Games being awarded to the City of Vancouver.

I still have some reservations and I still wonder about the government's real willingness to invest in the development of sport, which is the main objective of the bill. Therefore, I would like the government's action to reflect the objectives stated in the bill. In order for a policy to be effective, the means to carry it out must be provided.

The Bloc Quebecois is prepared to support this bill and the amendments, but in return we are asking the federal government to take a very serious look at the situation in the sports world and to make a financial commitment to athletes and coaches, so that they will have adequate facilities and an income worthy of an Olympian or of an athlete that makes us proud by standing on a podium.

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3:35 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part briefly in this discussion of Bill C-12. The reason we are dealing with it is that four amendments have come back to us from the other place. One is on linguistic duality. The second is on grants and contributions that will accord with the Official Languages Act. The third one deals with the corporate plan of the new sports body to be tabled annually in both Houses and, finally, that an annual report be tabled each year.

Just briefly by way of background, Bill C-54, now Bill C-12, was considered to be non-controversial and was supported unanimously last June by all parties in the House. The bill replaces and updates the Fitness and Amateur Sport Act, which dates back to 1961, and is intended to bring people, organizations and governments together to encourage, promote and develop physical activity in sport in Canada, a goal that all parties supported enthusiastically, as I have said.

In its preamble, the bill indicates that sport and physical activity can be forces that bind Canadians together, enhancing, among other things, the bilingual nature of Canada. The bill received unanimous support in the House on October 9, 2002, although I do not believe there was a recorded vote at that time.

To deal specifically and briefly with the amendments, Motion No. 1 makes a change to the preamble to the bill by adding the phrase “linguistic duality”.

The preamble states, and I quote:

whereas the Government of Canada recognizes that physical activity and sport are integral parts of Canadian culture and society and produce benefits in terms of health, quality of life, economic activity, cultural diversity and social cohesion, including strengthening the bilingual character of Canada;

And the amendment reads as follows:

social cohesion, linguistic duality, economic activity, cultural diversity and quality of life;

The main change here is to have the phrase “linguistic duality” replace the words “bilingual nature of Canada”. I would point that out to the member for Fraser Valley, who seemed to be concerned that the government was somehow trying to sneak something in as a result of the proposed changes from the other place. I think the two are very similar.

Motion No. 2 relates to the grants and contributions in accord with the Official Languages Act. The bill as passed in the House last year read as follows:

For the purposes of this Act, the Minister may provide financial assistance in the form of grants and contributions to any person.

The amendment adds, after the words “to any person”, the following words:

in accordance with Parts IV and VII of the Official Languages Act.

In Motion No. 3, the corporate plan of the new sports body is to be tabled in both Houses each year, with the annual report to be tabled in both Houses each year. We support both of these.

With regard to the corporate plan, the Senate amendment adds a new subclause 32(4), which states:

The Minister shall cause a copy of the corporate plan to be tabled in each House of Parliament on any of the first fifteen days on which that House is sitting after the Minister receives the plan.

We contacted representatives of the sports community. They were initially opposed to that clause being added, arguing that the sport body was set up to be at arm's length and the government seemed to be pulling it back under too tight a control. They insisted initially that enough accountability had already been built in and that these amendments sent a negative signal to sports bodies and athletes.

We have been told, however, that after consideration they are now prepared to support these amendments. So are the members of this caucus. We will be supporting the four amendments that have been presented to us this afternoon.

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3:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I want to say a few words in support of the amendments and the bill in general.

Recognizing linguistic duality in a bilingual country certainly should not be a chore for any of us. Having said that, when talking about sports, athletes or Olympic competition, many of the great athletes in this country of course come from the great province of Quebec. Just to make sure that as they proceed through the whole process they feel as comfortable as anyone else when assurance is given that linguistic duality is recognized, we support that fully.

There is another concern I have with the bill. It is laudable for the government to talk about increasing our awareness of sport and physical activity, to encourage participation and to make it possible for more people across the country to be involved in sport and physical activity, unlike, Mr. Speaker, in your day and my day as we were growing up when it seemed everyone was involved in physical activity, from the workplace point of view to the sports point of view. Everyone around, all the young people, were involved in some sort of sport or physical activity.

That does not seem to be the case today. A lot of our young people would rather come home from school on a bus than walk the two miles like we did, sit in front a television, which we did not have, and watch programs and eat junk food, which we did not have either. All of this leads to a lifestyle which certainly does not promote physical fitness or encourage people to get involved in sports. I still believe that with encouragement, leadership and the opportunity to participate, we would encourage people to get off the soft chair and get involved.

However, the one concern I have when I hear government talking about encouraging more people to get involved, and the great support we have for our people who are involved in the Olympics or professional sport, is the fact that it is very easy to set up organizations that encourage people to do things. But encouraging people to get involved and ensuring that they meet their full potential are two entirely different things. Our Olympic athletes cannot make it to the top without financial assistance. It is a wonder that Canada does as well as it does with the meagre assistance it gives in comparison to the countries with which it competes.

There is no better way to encourage young people to get involved in physical activity and in sports than having them see their heroes perform.

Mr. Speaker, you and I probably played hockey because we saw someone that we admired and we wanted to do what that person did. You certainly made it to the NHL, in one way or another. I certainly did not, for all kinds of reasons, but over the years I participated with people who could have if they had been given any kind of a chance, if they had had the right coaching or the right financial incentives, but of course they did not.

Mr. Speaker, more than anyone here you know the cost of helping people get to the top. Consequently, if we want our athletes to be the best and to be the shining stars that our young people can emulate, then we had better put our money where our mouth is.

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3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions among the parties and I think if you were to seek it you would find unanimous consent for the following motion: That Bill C-332, an act to confirm the rights of taxpayers and establish the office for taxpayer protection, stand in the name of the member for Mississauga South.

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3:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the parliamentary secretary have the consent of the House to propose the motion?

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3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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3:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

We will go back to the previous matter before the House, Bill C-12.

Is the House ready for the question?

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3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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Some hon. members

Agreed.

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3:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to, amendments read the second time and concurred in)