Mr. Speaker, as the Bloc Quebecois critic for amateur sport, I rise today to address Bill C-54, an act to promote physical activity and sport.
Since the beginning, we have felt that the objectives of this bill are worthwhile and even desirable. We said that we were in favour of the bill in principle, provided there is explicit compliance with the Official Languages Act.
It goes without saying that all Bloc Quebecois members, like all parliamentarians here, feel that physical activity is important and must be promoted through the implementation of practical and feasible measures.
The stakeholders who appeared before the committee spoke about the numerous benefits of physical activity, both from a medical and social point of view. This is a legitimate goal but, more importantly, one that must be maintained once achieved.
The government measures that will result from this bill must be real, immediate, and they must be designed for the general public, without any discrimination at all.
The Bloc Quebecois has insisted since the beginning that the Official Languages Act must be more than respected. Its provisions must be complied with in a real and systematic way.
In the preamble to Bill C-54, it is stated that physical activity and sport are integral parts of Canadian culture and society and produce obvious benefits in terms of health and social development.
We hope that the economic, structural and cultural benefits will be just the roots of the effects of this bill in the very long term. The medical benefits are numerous and significant. People who engage in a physical activity or sport tend to rely less on health care services.
From an economic point of view, there is, in addition to the spinoffs of special and international events, higher productivity for employees who engage in physical activity or sport.
Now that the health, social cohesion and participation objectives have been identified, we must immediately develop specific initiatives to achieve these benefits. We hope that this is what will actually come out of the implementation of the measures included in Bill C-54, considering its stated goals.
We have already mentioned that this bill is aimed at two target groups. First, of course, the elite athletes and then all the rest of us ordinary folk.
On numerous occasions, we have witnessed extraordinary and breathtaking performances by our elite athletes, but now we need to look more closely into their situation.
In 1999 the Bloc Quebecois filed a complaint with the Commissioner of Official Languages, asking her to investigate the problematic situation of francophone athletes. The Commissioner of Official Languages found that the allegations contained in the complaint were founded. The commissioner issued a full report in 2000.
In her report, the Commissioner of Official Languages provided the results of extensive research on the use of French and English in the Canadian sport system. The commissioner came to the conclusion that not only did the selection process for Canadian teams constitute a serious barrier for francophone athletes, but that the problem arose well before even an athlete reached the point of competing to be selected as one of the final team members. This problem has existed for many years, and it is high time we act to ensure that the rights of francophone athletes are respected, and that they receive services and coaching in the language of their choice.
For a long time now, the Bloc Quebecois has been demanding the implementation of the 16 recommendations contained in the official language commissioner's report, two years ago. We are still calling for their immediate implementation, as I mentioned yesterday. In fact, recognition of the problems faced by francophone athletes has been at the heart of the demands we have made both here in the House and in the sub-committee on sport since the beginning.
The official languages commissioner is clear: English and French are far from having equal status in Canadian sport.
With the introduction of Bill C-54, the Bloc Quebecois is entitled to request that the official language commissioner's recommendations be formally implemented and, in particular, that they be explicitly included in the bill.
The Bloc Quebecois therefore calls for legislative recognition of the formal implementation of the Official Languages Act.
How many francophone athletes have trained for years but not made it to international level competitions because of the language barrier?
The answer, unfortunately, is far too many. From the very beginning, the Bloc Quebecois has repeatedly called on the government to respect francophone athletes and trainers, who must master the English language, in addition to their particular sport.
Our request is entirely legitimate. We want to remind the government that 12 of the 16 recommendations were supposed to be implemented by April 1, 2001. None of the 16 recommendations has been implemented, and this is regrettable. Let us hope that all this will change as of today.
Yet these recommendations reflected a reality too blatant too ignore. In her first recommendation, the official languages commissioner asked Sport Canada to review the official languages goals of the sport funding framework.
It is therefore up to Sport Canada to require Canadian sport federations to simply eliminate the barriers facing our francophone athletes.
The commissioner's second recommendation was that Sport Canada systematically monitor implementation of the official languages goals, in a funding context, by April 1, 2001.
The next recommendation was that Treasury Board review its audit methodology in order to ensure control of program compliance.
Next, the commissioner recommended a complete and exhaustive review of the language requirements of positions in the Athlete Assistance Program.
Fifth, she recommended that official languages requirements be met at major games.
Sixth, the official languages commissioner recommended a review of the language requirements of management positions.
The report talked about reviewing the allocation of responsibilities among program officers in order to ensure that client organizations are served in the official language of their choice. It was strongly recommended that Sport Canada work with national sport organizations to ensure that they adopt appropriate policy statements on official languages.
It was also recommended that there be a review of the linguistic capability of the staff of national sport organizations, and that such capability become a Sport Canada requirement.
The commissioner also recommended that Sport Canada review sport organizations' official languages budgets.
Then, it was a matter of studying the feasibility of providing centralized linguistic services such as translation to sport organizations, either through government programs or through a non-governmental organization which could assume this mandate.
The twelfth recommendation addressed working with national sport organizations to identify the first official language of national team coaches by April 1, 2001.
The next recommendation dealt with distribution of technical manuals for coach education in both official languages.
The fourteenth is about ensuring that some members of the coaching group responsible for national teams have a knowledge of both official languages.
The next COL recommendation related to these same requirements for pedagogical material.
Finally, the commissioner felt it was important that medical services be provided in both official languages. We feel it is necessary to repeat all these recommendations because, although the report dates back to the year 2000, it has taken the government more than two years to react.
Although it did introduce a bill in the House of Commons, it took the insistence of the Bloc Quebecois to get respect of both official languages to be entrenched in legislation from now on.
Our athletes and coaches have to perform miracles because of the flagrant lack of resources that has gone on far too long already. We were all proud of their performances at the latest Olympic Games, in Salt Lake City.
Just imagine what the outcome would have been if they had had the appropriate resources. Just imagine what it would have been if francophone athletes and coaches had had decent access to services and to Canadian team selection.
We are all aware of the exceptional performances by Quebec athletes in these games. They must be multi-talented, as they need to have not only mastered their sport discipline, but the English language as well.
This vicious circle absolutely must end. The time is past when francophone athletes and coaches had to accept this. The time for balance is finally here. The authorities have had ample time to react to the official languages commissioner's report. Now is time for action.
The Bloc Quebecois has called for formal respect, entrenched in law, of both official languages, for as long as is necessary. We are pleased with the results we have observed so far. We shall be watching to ensure that implementation in future is real and tangible.
Merely stating that the Official Languages Act applies is not sufficient. This act has been in place for quite some time, and there are still far too many Canadian sports federations that do not yet comply with it.
Another barrier encountered by francophone athletes and coaches is the lack of vision among Canadian broadcasters. Radio-Canada does not meet the needs and expectations of athletes, coaches or amateur sports fans.
Radio-Canada has a shameful record when it comes to broadcasting events related to amateur athlete performances. It is nonexistent. Radio-Canada does not fulfill its obligations toward Quebecers and francophones outside Quebec, and this is unacceptable.
Quebecers and francophones outside Quebec recently experienced this when Radio-Canada decided to end a 50 year tradition and stop broadcasting La Soirée du hockey . Imagine what it must be like for Quebecers and francophones outside Quebec. This decision only worsens an already difficult situation.
The role of Radio-Canada is to promote physical activity and amateur sport, but it would rather turn its back on our athletes and coaches who are, let us acknowledge it, international in calibre. It takes years of work and concentration to train an olympic calibre athlete.
This requires more than wishful thinking. It requires money, lots of money. However, our athletes also need visibility. It is incumbent upon Radio-Canada to carry out its broadcasting duties across Canada, and in particular in Quebec, so that Quebecers can see what is happening and watch their athletes.
It is the government's job to ensure that the crown corporation takes its responsibilities seriously. The media coverage of the Paralympic Games or the Commonwealth Games was minimal, almost nonexistent. It is already a tough sell attracting sedentary viewers to physical activity.
However, it is difficult to attract people's attention to something they are unaware of. If the public is not aware of sport events taking place here, then it should come as no surprise that they are becoming more and more sedentary, and also obese.
The Bloc Quebecois believes that the promotion of physical activity must be increased, varied and more widely broadcast. Is the problem a lack of money? Yes. Decrepit equipment? Yes. Are training centres too far from where athletes live? Yes.
Here we have before us a tool that will help correct these incomprehensible situations. The values that sport and physical activity promote are commendable, even essential.
We are talking about perseverance, discipline, effort, determination and sacrifice. We know the problems. We now have a tool. So let us go forward and rectify what has deserved to be for too long.
Excellence is not limited to medals, we all know that. Through the effective implementation of the objectives of Bill C-54, we will finally be able to reach summits that were becoming increasingly unreachable.
Like you, Mr. Speaker, I have dreamed of an olympic medal. This is how many hopes are born among our young and not so young people. Most of us have given up on this goal, but we can now dream once again and we can finally tell our children that they too can dream about it.
Some were successful in achieving their goals, and they won medals. Yet, very few reach such heights. Only a very select group has reached the podium. These athletes are now our inspiration and we thank them for this. What we have learned from their feats is sportsmanship. We thank them for this also. They have made us realize that we must provide to the new generation of athletes the necessary tools to reach this goal. These tools must be provided to the greatest number of people possible.
As I was saying, there is no difference between sports at the grassroots and sports at the highest level. All elite athletes began practising their sport in their back yard or neighborhood park. This is why we must invest right now to support athletes and coaches. This is also why we must continue to improve the existing infrastructure and invest in new facilities.
So, the government must do its utmost to promote the pleasure of competing and engaging in a physical activity, in keeping with sport values and, of course, in compliance with the Official Languages Act.
We must also redesign our sport values and purposely include members of the public as full-fledged participants. Members of the subcommittee on sport all agreed that we still have a lot to learn about physical activity. We must review our definition of participation and we must do our utmost to promote participation.
Every Canadian knew about ParticipAction, but the program was eliminated by this government last year. The Bloc Quebecois hopes that the federal government will find it appropriate to consult its Quebec counterpart to discuss the benefits of the Kino-Québec program and that it will follow its example.
We also hope that the related moneys will be transferred to the Quebec government to promote Kino-Québec. It is to be noted that the objectives of this Quebec program are similar to those of Bill C-54. It would be appropriate to have consultations and initiate discussions on this issue.
We have all wondered about why people lose interest in physical activity. Some say that television, video games or computer games are the main causes. But we must look further; it would be too easy to stop there. There is a lack of access to facilities. We now have the tool to correct this situation. Therefore, let us move forward and allow general access to sport facilities. This is part of promoting public participation.
Also, there are not enough facilities. Again, let us move forward and correct this shortage. Since 1976, very few new sport facilities have been built in Quebec and the federal government has not been involved at all. We also need more coaches. We must act now to correct this whole situation, and I think we can do so with this bill.
The goals of this bill are commendable, but we should ensure we have specific measures to promote physical activity. For example, we should review what is going on in the media in terms of broadcasting and promotion, because we have all seen that the coverage of the paralympics was clearly deficient, if not totally absent.
Bill C-59 spells out its purpose in several goals. These goals could be nothing but wishful thinking, but we hope they will be achieved quickly.
We think that achieving these goals will help all athletes reach for excellence, and that they will also encourage the public to engage in sports and physical activity.
Clearly, the government's intention is to promote physical activity and sport in order to improve the health and well-being of people. But the government should carefully avoid infringing on the jurisdictions of Quebec, the provinces and the territories.
Athletes and coaches, for a whole generation, have been the victims of drastic cuts in grants and assistance programs.
The Bloc Quebecois hopes this bill signals the end of these cuts and the start of real investment in physical activity and sport.
Training an athlete or a coach takes many years of hard work. This training must be uninterrupted, with financial and structural support. The Bloc Quebecois hopes this bill will provide both forms of support.
We hope that never again will an athlete or a coach have to go through such a situation or face funding cuts. It would be too unfair for an athlete to be faced with the hardest decision of their life: pursue his or her dream and go into debt, or give it up to earn a living and survive.
This should never happen again. As we have said, the time for studies and committees is over. It is time to put the necessary money to work for athletes and coaches, but also for the public, which wants to improve its quality of life.
The Bloc Quebecois wants to encourage the government to put in place as quickly as possible a mechanism for working together with the Government of Quebec and the provincial governments in order to promote and develop sport and physical activity.
We hope that this will be achieved by making the transfers needed to achieve these goals, with care taken not to interfere in the jurisdiction of Quebec, or of the provinces and territories.
Clause 7 of the bill allows the minister to enter into agreements with the Government of Quebec, and the provincial and territorial governments for the payment of contributions in respect of costs incurred. We are confident that the government will drop any intention of promoting the Canadian identity in implementing this clause.
The Bloc Quebecois has long requested that athletes and coaches be the core focus of any policy on sport. This is what we see in the wording of the bill. We therefore encourage the government to respect this apolitical commitment and to pursue this course.
The bill also gives the Minister of Canadian Heritage the mandate to encourage the private sector to contribute to the development of sport. This mandate needs to be expanded to include physical activity. It is up to the government to inform employers about their responsibilities with respect to the promotion of sport and physical activity.
Employers will soon reap the benefits of participation in physical activity. The private sector's contribution to the development of sport will be to put the best interests of athletes and coaches ahead of monetary goals.
Central to the bill is the creation of the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre. The Bloc Quebecois believes that the creation of such a centre is vital.
Obviously, this centre will be good both for Canadian sport federations and for the athletes and coaches who are members of them.
There were instances where an athlete has suffered a harsh and permanent penalty because the decision on the dispute was not made in time for him or her to take part in an important competition.
So far, the avenues for dispute resolution have been limited to common law courts. As we know, delays drag out because of abuse of process, resulting in athletes getting worn down. We believe that the creation of this center will help to greatly reduce delays.
In certain cases, Canadian sport federations or athletes were forced to spend enormous amounts of money because their case was brought before a common law court, with all the legal costs that entails. We hope that the creation of this dispute resolution centre will provide a means of dispute resolution satisfactory to Canadian sport federations and athletes.
We are pleased that this not-for-profit centre will operate at arm's length, without any king of interference from the government. We are also pleased that the purpose of this centre will be to encourage transparency in procedures and decision making. It should be noted that the Bloc Quebecois has called for that on numerous occasions in the House.
We must stress, however, the need for an impartial and independent decision-making process. As in the case of a common law court, judicial independence is essential and of utmost importance.
The parties must be able to see in the centre the appearance of impartiality and independence. In other words, the parties' perception should be that the judicial and extrajudicial proceedings show freedom of action and of thought. The wording of the provisions of Bill C-54 seems to confirm this requirement for transparency and independence.
The Bloc Quebecois believes that the centre must allow for rapid awards, while making appeals possible. In this way, we believe that everyone's rights will be protected. The right of appeal must be upheld.
Since the parties will have appeared before a mediator or an arbitrator first, they will be able to assess whether an appeal is warranted. Moreover, we think the fact that mediators and arbitrators come from the sport community is a good idea.
Only Canadian federations and their members will have access to the centre. By operating in this way, the jurisdictions of Quebec, of the provincesl and of the territories will not be affected. The internal rules will specify the terms and conditions under which the centre will carry out its mission. We favour the possibility of appeal in order to protect the fundamental right of representation before the courts. This is how the arbitration boards in Quebec operate at present.
It would be prudent and advisable to follow the guidelines found in Quebec's code of civil procedure to establish the procedural requirements for the internal management of the centre. In fact, these provisions should have been included in the act.
Under article 382 of the Code of Civil Procedure of Québec, a case is only referred to an arbitrator when the parties request that the dispute be resolved. We believe that the same should apply to the centre being established by Bill C-54.
Since the beginning, the Bloc Quebecois has been recommending that it be up to the athletes to resort to the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre. To respect the fundamental right to turn to the courts, it is essential that we specify that the decision to resort to this alternative is completely voluntary.
We continue to insist on compliance with the provisions of article 386 of the Code of Civil Procedure of Québec, which says that arbitrators must make their award in writing.
The 30 day time limit set out in article 387 of the Code of Civil Procedure of Québec should be included in the centre's bylaws, as well as the award homologation method.
We wish to reiterate the need to make every decision subject to an appeal mecanism before the common law courts. This is what article 393 of the Code of Civil Procedure of Quebec provides for, if that is what the parties want.
This article provides that, when homologated, the award may be appealed like any judgment of the superior court.
We feel obliged to point out that we still insist that the goals and missions provided for in this bill be achieved in a context of total respect for the jurisdictions of Quebec, the other provinces and the territories, particularly as far as training and bursaries are concerned. We are adamant about that and will continue to be. It is a fundamental requirement which is self-evident. We were told in committee that Quebec's jurisdictions would be respected.
The preamble states that the federal government wishes to encourage co-operation with the Government of Quebec, among the various governments, the physical activity and sport communities and the private sector. It specifies that this encouragement is for the purpose of coordinating their promotion efforts.
Again, we would like to point out that there needs to be more than co-operation; there must be ongoing and sustained discussions in order to succeed. In fact, we believe that the first efforts at coordination must be between the Government of Quebec and the different levels of government before involving the private sector
To ensure that the jurisdictions of all levels of government are respected, instead of undertaking consultations, the Canadian heritage minister, through the Secretary of State for Amateur Sport, should set up issue tables in conjunction with her counterparts in Quebec and the provinces and territories, because they are the ones who know best the needs and aspirations of athletes and coaches.
Through such discussions, the stakeholders could agree on shared strategies to be followed and on the specific challenges, all this while respecting respective jurisdictions.
The federal government has always recognized Quebec's responsibility as far as recreation and health are concerned. It did so back in 1987 with the National Recreation Statement. We are therefore asking for this to be continued.
The Bloc Quebecois therefore recommends the transfer of the funds earmarked for this bill to the Government of Quebec.
It will thus be able to apply them via programs already in place. As a result, the duplication and redundancy that generally results from such overlap would be avoided.
It would have been recommendable to have a specific whereas statement in the preamble to confirm this respect of jurisdictions, with a view to avoiding needless and pointless friction between the various levels of government.
It is also essential and vital for this bill to state explicitly that the Official Languages Act must be complied with in order to ensure that it is formally applied, and that all of its provisions are applied. This is now the case.
Compliance with the act must therefore be ipart of the regular activities of the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada created by Bill C-54.
The Bloc Quebecois believes that this is a good first step. We must then ensure that the bill will indeed be implemented. From now on, the Official Languages Act will be recognized in legislation. It was time that the situation was corrected.
Some of the challenges affect the whole country, given that they are closely related to the francophone reality. The Commissioner of Official Languages stated this in her report, as I mentioned earlier.
We hope that all of her recommendations will be implemented. It is important to follow up on these recommendations to ensure that they really do get implemented in the very near future.
It only makes sense that these recommendations be implemented as soon as possible. Many French speaking athletes have been penalized by the lack of respect for the French fact. Another generation must not suffer the same fate.
The exodus of French speaking athletes is a result of the lack of resources earmarked for sports facilities. Lacking what they need, our athletes have often been forced into exile in the west to perfect their craft. This exodus has a devastating effect on Quebec. We have been feeling the effects for much too long.
As far as the elite athletes are concerned, some measures have been put into place, but there are still too many shortcomings. This is why young athletes and coaches who have risen to a high level end up going west when their striving for excellence goes beyond what is available to them in Quebec.
Athletes who are in exile testified at regional hearings and said that we need a plan to correct the situation and train high level athletes and coaches in Quebec, and train them in French, to meet the needs of the French speaking community. Another way to correct this unfair situation is to help with major events, so that Quebec's potential gains international exposure.
The potential is there in Quebec, but it really needs our help. As a matter of fact, all athletes and coaches need our help now. Let us hope that the measures contained in Bill C-54 will adequately address these glaring flaws.
Some people are talking about a lost generation, and others of future generations that will not have time to develop their full potential. Clearly, the training of Olympic and Paralympic athletes takes years—some ten years, actually.
As regards the private sector, the government must ensure that all disciplines of sport are respected, as well as the diversity of physical activities.
The role of the private sector will be to support all events in all disciplines, instead of investing in the careers of a few athletes that have obtained good results. This will ensure that our athletes and coaches will get what they deserve in the end, real support, both financial and structural.
While this bill states a number of objectives, adequate financial resources are necessary to effectively meet needs and follow up on intentions.
In its brief, Sports-Québec indicated that the resources allocated to sport by the federal government were currently not nearly enough and that, unless they were increased, this bill would remain a utopia. We agree with this statement.
In fact, we support the recommendations submitted by Sports-Québec at the national sport summit, held in April 2001, in Ottawa. According to Sports-Québec, the budgets allocated to sport should be increased, with the exception of the moneys for professional sports and the organization of major games.
The proposed budgets are as follows: in 2002, it should have been 0.15% of the government's total budget; 0.2% in 2003; 0.3% in 2005, and 0.5% in 2008. These objectives are very reasonable. All that is needed is the government's will to support these figures, so that the real objectives of the bill can be achieved.
When they appeared before the committee, all the stakeholders shared their concerns about the growing needs of the sport community. Some said that there was no serious commitment on the part of the federal government regarding facilities.
This shortcoming has economic and social consequences on international sport events. The situation is even more critical for winter sports equipment.
The Bloc Quebecois believes that the results will be positive only if we compeltely rethink our philosophy toward athletes and coaches. It is also appropriate to review our attitude toward physical activity.
A whereas in the preamble of Bill C-54 deals with the desire to increase public awareness of the benefits of physical activity and sport.
We want to point out that this must be done only if the jurisdiction of Quebec and the various levels of government is respected. It is obvious that this implies the involvement of several departments, particularly health and education. Once again, the Bloc Quebecois recommends that there be continuing discussions with counterparts from Quebec, the provinces and the territories.
A very important fact is that, to respond to the expectations of this bill, there will have to be increased broadcasting and greater diversity in what is broadcast.
The Bloc Quebecois hopes that a real Department of Sport will be established. We moved an amendment on this. This seemed to receive unanimous support in the sub-committee. Thus, athletes and coaches, as well as the people of Canada and Quebec people, would have had a department with a real portfolio.
Sports-Québec also recommends the establishment of this department. With a real Department of Sports complete with a portfolio, the objectives could probably have been applied at all levels, from the elite down. This would probably encourage widespread promotion of the objectives in a much more effective way than through the federations, which are mainly concerned with fostering excellence.
I know that the time allotted to me is up. I therefore hope that all the necessary funding will be made available so that physical activity and sport are recognized for the benefits they yield.