Evidence of meeting #35 for Canadian Heritage in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was sport.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Henry Storgaard  Chief Executive Officer / Secretary General, Canadian Paralympic Committee
Peter Montopoli  General Secretary, Canadian Soccer Association
Lane MacAdam  Director, Sport Excellence, Sport Canada, Department of Canadian Heritage
Graham Brown  Chief Executive Officer, Rugby Canada
Chris Jones  Senior Leader, Sport Matters Group
Pierre Lafontaine  Chief Executive Officer, Swimming Canada

11:10 a.m.


Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Good morning, everyone.

Exceptionally, I will preside over this meeting until our colleague Mr. Moore arrives. I want to begin by welcoming everyone. Thank you for coming to share your experience with us. We are preparing for a major event in the Olympic Games, which will take place this summer.

Joining us today are the following witnesses: Henry Storgaard, from the Canadian Paralympic Committee; Peter Montopoli, from the Canadian Soccer Association; Lane MacAdam, from the Department of Canadian Heritage; Graham Brown, from Rugby Canada; Chris Jones, from the Sport Matters Group; and Pierre Lafontaine, from Swimming Canada.

Good morning. Thank you for joining us. Please note that the presentations will be slightly shortened to seven minutes each. We ask that you keep that in mind. We have many witnesses this morning, and we want to hear from everyone. We want to have the opportunity to talk to you. I will let you know when you reach the six-minute mark. My signal will not mean that I want to speak, but that you have one minute left.

I now yield the floor to Henry Storgaard.

11:10 a.m.

Henry Storgaard Chief Executive Officer / Secretary General, Canadian Paralympic Committee

Thank you.

It's a pleasure to be here to share with you information on the Canadian Paralympic Committee and our athletes and coaches who are preparing for London. I'm the CEO. I proudly represent the 150 athletes and 40 coaches who will be representing our country in London in less than 90 days.

Paralympic athletes are athletes with a physical disability. Many of them have been victims of accidents or other events that have caused them to not be able to participate in able-bodied sport and have an option to carry on their career in sports or to carry on in their active lifestyles through parasport and Paralympic sport.

I want to share with you that my story really begins in Vancouver two years ago, with the Vancouver Paralympic Winter Games. Canadian Paralympic athletes were not particularly well known among Canadians at that point in time, until the games and the broadcast of the games. Fourteen million Canadians watched our Paralympic athletes compete in sledge hockey, cross-country skiing, and numerous other events.

Our success in Vancouver was outstanding. We placed third in the world, which for us is a significant accomplishment. It also brought us a great deal of awareness and pride. I think all of you will recall that coming out of Vancouver, all Canadians had a greater sense of pride and confidence, and realized that they could go for gold in whatever endeavour they chose.

Vancouver has been very good to the Canadian Paralympic Committee. As a result of that, our funding from the Government of Canada has increased. That funding has enabled us as an organization to secure private sector funds and corporate funding. We've made a commitment to Sport Canada and the Government of Canada that we will match their funds within the next two years. Right now, we get 65% of our funds from the Government of Canada and about 35% from the private sector. We are very grateful for that funding. It's enabled us and our athletes to compete at the top level in the world.

To give you an example, one of our athletes, Michelle Stilwell, is a wheelchair racer along the lines of Chantal Petitclerc, who I'm sure you've heard of, one of Canada's top Paralympians, having won five gold medals in Beijing. Recently we were able to provide Michelle with a new wheelchair, the highest-end, state-of-the-art racing wheelchair that you could buy in the world. Since she got that new chair, which is a construction of carbon fibre and titanium, Michelle has set three world records in her lead-up to the Paralympic Games. This is an incredible accomplishment for this young lady as we go forward. Just to give you an idea, a chair like that for a top racer in the world is worth somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000.

We also, on the other end of that spectrum, are investing $500,000 annually in parasport equipment for children in communities and schools all across Canada. We are asking those communities to match our $500,000 contribution to make that a $1 million program. That has been running successfully for many years. Through the good graces of both the government and our corporate sponsors, we've been able to enhance participation of children with physical disabilities in sport.

Another interesting program is our “Soldier on” program that we have partnered with the Department of National Defence. These are soldiers, men and women who have come back from war, who are injured. We have a Paralympic training program that we operate in partnership with National Defence to assist these soldiers to get back into a sport or an active lifestyle. We have a few of these soldiers on our Paralympic teams.

I would specifically like to share with you that Paralympic sport is a vital expression of physicality for men and women who like to compete at the highest level of athletics. We are not going to London for a hug; we are going to London to win gold medals on behalf of Canada and Canadians. The resolve of these young men and women is extraordinary, I can assure you—I witness it every day. And they will proudly represent and inspire all Canadians in their competition in London, through their accomplishments and through what they are able to do based on their disability and their ability.

In wrapping up, I would like to say this is going to be a very special Paralympic Games, because London and England is the home of the Paralympic movement. The genesis of it was when British soldiers came home from war they started Paralympic Games activity to help rehabilitate soldiers. So it has a lot of meaning to the Paralympic world, and we are delighted to represent our country at these games.

Thank you.

11:15 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

Thank you, Mr. Storgaard.

Now I'll move to Mr. Montopoli.

11:15 a.m.

Peter Montopoli General Secretary, Canadian Soccer Association

Thank you very much.

I am Peter Montopoli. I am the general secretary for the Canadian Soccer Association. It's a pleasure to be here, and thank you for having me here representing the sport with the largest number of participants in the country. I think many of you are aware of that. We see that every day and every evening, whether it be during the day or on weekends, when the parks, the communities, and the fields are being used to the max for our sport. We are proud to be the sport with the largest number of participants in our country, with 850,000 participants, and also very proud that 42% of our participants are female; that's 355,000 participants.

In terms of the global perspective and the number of female participants we have competing, we're third in the world behind the United States and Germany. I think it's a strong tribute to the sport, the people in the sport, and the communities that we have extensive participation by both males and females at the grassroots level: 44% of all youth play the sport of soccer in their community.

As you can see, from a participation point of view this sport is fully entrenched in communities across the country. I've been asked to speak here more in terms of the Olympics, but I can go on and on about many things about our sport. I'd love to on another day, but we will stick to the agenda: the women's national team program that has qualified for the summer Olympics for the second consecutive time, this time for 2012. Part of that success, and maybe part of the Canadian Soccer Association's, is that our communities are growing the sport, but a large part is due to the Government of Canada, through Sport Canada, through “Own the Podium”, in funding our elite team, our elite program, to be one of the best in the world. Certainly there is no lack of funding for this program, which has now reached one of the highest levels in the world.

We are currently ranked number seven in the world, but we have just come off winning the 2011 Pan American Games gold medal, a first for women's soccer for our country in the Pan American Games. Arguably we probably have at this point the best women's player in the world in Christine Sinclair. I think all of you have heard of her, seen her, and we're very excited about her participation in the summer Olympics. This past week we held a match in Moncton versus China. She scored on the last play of the match, in the last seconds of the match, for us to earn a victory over China, and now has positioned herself as the third-highest-scoring female in the history of international soccer, behind only two who are at the highest levels. We expect that when she has completed her career, which we hope has many more years to go, she will be the highest-scoring female in the history of women's soccer. I think that's quite a tribute, not only to her and the community where she grew up, but to our national team program. All of us as Canadians can be very proud of her success. She was a flag-bearer for Canada at the Pan American Games.

We introduced a new head coach to the program in September of 2011. He energized the program. He brought new beliefs, new tactics, and a new foundation of support for that program, which needed it at that point, so much so that we really believe that with the program he's devised and the commitment of the athletes we can win Canada's first team medal for a sport in the summer Olympics since 1936. That's our goal this summer, to be the team that wins that medal for Canada as a team in the summer Olympics for the first time since 1936. This is what he has instilled in the players. I was with the players this past weekend, and they still believe that; they see that.

The competition schedule we put together for them is second to none. We played the United States, and we'll play the United States once again, on June 30 in the United States. We've played Brazil, Sweden, France, all top-four clubs in the world, and competed very well. We've had some draws, lost one match, and beat the others. We are competing at the highest level possible in order to be successful as a country. As we enter the Olympic Games, we know we are the first competition. We start two days before the opening ceremonies. The sport of football takes a long time to complete at the Olympics.

We've seen it happen before, where a team that is successful and goes very far can actually take the country by storm and know that for two and a half weeks the country is following this one team. We believe we have the players and we have the coach to be successful and to reach the pinnacle of international success at the Olympic Games.

The team is currently training in Vancouver, as a residency program. They will be training in Europe prior to the Olympic Games to do everything they and we can do as a country to be successful.

I'd like to thank the government for their support, not only of the team and of the Canadian Soccer Association, but also in 2012, when we hosted the CONCACAF women's Olympic qualification tournament in Vancouver. The government supported us through the hosting program and we were able to fill the stadium, B.C. Place--160,000 spectators throughout the course of the tournament, 25,000 sell-out lower-bowl playing a championship match against the United States that was televised nationally. We need to be doing more and more of that. That's why on the heels of that success and the success of our women's team we bid for the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015, through the support of the federal government. We secured that bid in March of 2011, and now we are beginning to work on that competition.

We were pleased two weeks ago to be here in Parliament, in front of the Canada doors, with FIFA president Blatter and the Minister of State for Sport, to announce the official host cities for 2015 of Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal, and Moncton. For the first time in our country--and I think this is one thing we really try to resonate in every speech we make--there is a major international competition that will be held coast to coast, from west coast to east coast and back, at the same time. It has never happened before in our country. It will never happen again. It's six provinces, six cities, at the same time. That's how a FIFA competition is held.

We are very excited at the prospect that every Canadian can touch and feel our sport, the women's FIFA World Cup, which is FIFA's second-largest competition. And it is the largest women's event of any kind in the world of any major sports, entertainment, arts, whatever you name--it's the largest. We have a lot of good things going on in the sport, but certainly without the support of the federal government it would be very, very difficult to achieve the goals and objectives we have set out.

We thank you for believing in the sport. We are the number one participation sport. We hope to continue to grow. We do need more fields. We'd like to work with the government on that, but at this point in time we believe our growth is at the highest level within our country, and our success is right on the edge of reaching that highest level of medals at the summer Olympic Games.

I'd like to thank the government, Sport Canada, and Own the Podium for your contributions, and for the opportunity to speak here today.

Thank you.

11:20 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

Thank you, sir.

Mr. MacAdam.

11:20 a.m.

Lane MacAdam Director, Sport Excellence, Sport Canada, Department of Canadian Heritage

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, Mr. Chair and members, for today's invitation.

Sport Canada is a branch of the Department of Canadian Heritage whose mission is to enhance opportunities for all Canadians to participate and excel in sport.

To fulfill our mission and contribute to the achievement of the Canadian sport policy goals, Sport Canada develops policies, provides financial support through funding programs, and undertakes a number of special initiatives.

That is Sport Canada's attempt to enhance the capacity and coordination of the Canadian sport system, encourage participation in sport and enable Canadians with talent and dedication to achieve excellence in international sport.

You'll know that the Canadian sport system has many layers, ranging from the international level to national teams, to provincial and territorial programming, and obviously at the grassroots level. Sport Canada plays mainly at the international and national levels.

Sport Canada funding is provided to contribute to the costs of individual athlete participation in high-level sport; to support national sport organizations, such as soccer and Paralympics and other colleagues here; to develop sport from the playground to the podium; to support national team programming, such as our women's national soccer team, and the training, competition, coaching, sport science, and medicine support that goes into those programs; and also to help support hosting events across Canada.

Sport Canada manages three funding programs that are focused on specific elements of our sport system.

Our first program is our sports support program. The sports support program is the primary funding vehicle for initiatives associated with the delivery of the Canadian sport policy. It has various streams, but its main focus is to support national sport organizations, Canadian sport centres—we have a network of centres across Canada--and various multi-sport service organizations.

The total budget for 2012-2013 for the sport support program is $143 million. This includes targeted funding that is recommended through the own-the-podium initiative, which I'll speak to in a moment.

The second component is the Athlete Assistance Program. That program contributes to improving Canadian performances at major international sporting events by supporting athletes already in the top 16 in the world. Over 1,800 athletes are supported through that program.

The budget for this year of the athlete assistance program is approximately $27 million for direct financial support to our best, highest-calibre athletes.

The third funding program is our hosting program. Peter alluded to it a moment ago. It aims to enhance the development of sport excellence and the international profile of sport organizations by assisting them to host Canada Games and other international sport events in the country. I noted many members here today are from communities that have hosted events like the Canada Games and other events in their communities. The program supports multi-sport events like the Vancouver Olympic Games, the 2015 Pan-American and Para-Pan-American Games, international single sports events like the Women's World Cup of soccer, and other multi-sport games targeting aboriginal peoples or persons with a disability, and, as I mentioned, the Canada Games program. The annual budget for that program is about $19 million.

The handout that you have has a pie chart that shows the distribution of funds that is provided for the current fiscal year from the Government of Canada.

Before discussing the London preparation, I'd like to bring you back to four years ago in Beijing, where our Olympic team consisted of 332 athletes: 186 men and 146 women. The goal put forth by the Olympic committee, Own the Podium, and the Government of Canada at the time was to place in the top 16 nations by total medal count. I'm pleased to say that we achieved that result, and actually did better, finishing tied for 13th spot, with a total of 18 medals. The handout outlines Canada's ranking vis-à-vis other countries of the world. That showed a distinct improvement from the previous quadrennial in Athens, where we finished in 19th place and had 12 medals overall.

Canada sent a team of 144 athletes to the Paralympic Games in Beijing in 2008. Canada won 50 medals, including 19 gold medals, and finished seventh overall in the world.

The most Canadian medals were won in athletics and swimming. As Mr. Storgaard said, a single athlete won five gold medals and set two world records. I'm talking about Chantal Petitclerc.

Last week I think you heard from the Canadian Olympic Committee identifying our collective objectives for London. In consultation with the Canadian Olympic Committee, Own the Podium, and the Government of Canada the organization has set a goal of a top 12 finish for London. Based on our tracking of Canadian results leading into the games, I'm pleased to say that Canada has won 17 medals across 10 sports; three each in rowing and swimming; two in cycling, diving, and equestrian; and one each in athletics, boxing, canoeing, and gymnastics. These are world-championship-level medals leading into the games. While a top 12 finish is ambitious, we believe it is achievable. In those sports for which Canada has medal potential it will be dependent, however, on the continued success and health of our top athletes. This is not an exact science. Obviously, athletes need to perform on a given day; a week later is obviously a bit too late. Again, it's not an exact science, but we feel very strongly that these athletes are well prepared going into London.

To continue Canada's tradition as a leading paralympic nation and to build upon its recent success at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Paralympic Games, the Canadian Paralympic Committee has set its goal for team Canada to post a top-eight finish in the gold-medal count at the upcoming London Games.

You heard last week and as well again today about the role of an organization called Own the Podium. It was created in 2006 in partnership with the Government of Canada, the Canadian Olympic Committee, and the Canadian Paralympic Committee. It was based on a shared resolve to achieve success at future Olympic and Paralympic Games. It's providing focused leadership and common policies for both our winter and summer programs, and it makes funding recommendations to the national funding partners based on expert analysis and provides advice to national sport organizations in the development of their high-performance programs.

If you compare the Government of Canada's financial support for our teams going into the London quadrennial to the funding in the four years leading up to the Sydney quadrennial in 2004, it has actually tripled in terms of our Paralympic and Olympic programming. If you compare the last quadrennial in terms of Beijing, the funding has actually increased by 40%. We feel that we've provided the most significant funding ever to our Olympic and Paralympic teams as they head into major international competitions.

I'll leave it there for now, Mr. Chairman, and I look forward to your questions.


11:30 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

Thank you.

Now we'll move to Mr. Brown.

11:30 a.m.

Graham Brown Chief Executive Officer, Rugby Canada

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, it's an honour to be here with you today to discuss Canada's preparations for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London.

In 2009 the International Olympic Committee selected rugby and golf as two new sports into the Olympic family. Rugby is not actually in the 2012 Olympics—we're in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro—but that doesn't change the fact that we're equally as committed to winning a medal, both men's and women's sevens, in 2016.

We started that quest yesterday with a game on the Hill, where we invited politicians from all parties and media to prepare our athletes for 2016. Fortunately, we did that at the beginning of our preparation, and not at the end.

11:30 a.m.


Oh, oh!

11:30 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Rugby Canada

Graham Brown

Rugby as a sport has a long history. Sevens rugby, albeit new, as a sport has been readily and aggressively adopted in Canada because of its Olympic involvement.

Our men are currently a top-12 country in the world. We are not supported by OTP, but our goal is to be supported by Own the Podium and to finish in the top ten. We are on the world circuit, so we represent Canada in ten tournaments around the world in a grand prix format. Our goal next year is to finish in the top ten in the men.

In terms of our women's rugby, we're currently ranked number one in the world. Of our last seven tournaments, we won five, and we finished second in one, third in the other. We are traditionally a strong rugby nation in women's fifteens. We believe our athletic base and the way in which we approach team sports in Canada will ensure that our women will win gold in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

Funding support for our rugby is multi-faceted. We believe in the business model where our funding comes from multiple sources and not just government. However, we wouldn't be able to field our men's and women's program without the support of the Government of Canada, whether it be through Sport Canada in their hosting program, through the athlete assistance program, or through the general sports support program that support all of our athletes in the development of rugby across Canada.

Own the Podium, where our women are supported, has provided an opportunity to take our women and present them on the world stage and to ensure, in my opinion, that they stay number one for the next five years. We hope that our relationship with Own the Podium will continue to grow and we'll be able to offer our women the absolute best possible chances of following Peter's gold—or silver or bronze—that he will win in London this summer.

In terms of all the colleagues we deal with in Canadian sport, I think we're all very fortunate to have the COC, Sport Canada, Own the Podium, and all the other collective bodies that support our coaching and officiating programs. They all work together in Canadian sport. Our real focus, however, is on our athletes.

Although we can always say that we've prepared enough, whether it be 2012 or 2016, the true measure of competing for Canada is allowing our athletes to compete without any distractions. I'm not sure whether we do that on a regular basis or whether we do that on a daily basis, but I can tell you that all of the sports preparing for the Olympic Games are trying to provide our athletes with the absolute best preparation, both in the lead-up to the Olympic Games and when they're done, when they come home from the Olympic Games, whether they win a medal or not.

I believe the support that we can give our athletes will be paramount as they represent Canada. Probably it's the greatest thrill they will have, representing their country, but it's also the greatest honour they'll ever have.

On behalf of Rugby Canada, although we're not in 2012, we are in 2016, and we hope this is the first step to preparing our athletes for both medal and podium in 2016.

Thank you.

11:35 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

Thank you.

Mr. Jones.

11:35 a.m.

Chris Jones Senior Leader, Sport Matters Group

Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for the invitation to present here today.

The Sport Matters Group, SMG, represents the collective interests of sport and physical activity in Canada. We have been in existence for a decade and work to advance supportive public policies for the sport and physical activity sectors.

This past April we held an advocacy day on Parliament Hill, during which we met with 90 MPs and five ministers. Our theme that day was to promote the concept of “from playground to podium”. This theme is relevant to the inquiry your committee is presently undertaking in relation to the preparations for the London Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer. My comments are confined to a discussion of the background context in which Canadian children and youth are provided with the necessary physical literacy, physical education, recreational access, and sporting opportunity, which will—over time, it is hoped—result in an expansive pool of high-performance athletes from which to draw.

Permit me to say that the sector is grateful for the foresight and enlightened thinking that led the federal government in its recent 2012 economic action plan to protect the funding allocated to core sport, high-performance sport, athletes assistance, the Canadian sports centres, and ParticipAction. Coupled with the decision to re-authorize funding for the Own the Podium agency in the aftermath of the 2010 Vancouver games, this lastest decision is to be commended, for it demonstrated recognition of the critical role the federal government plays in providing leadership to the entire sports system.

Additionally, the Canadian sport policy renewal discussions, in which I have been privileged to participate and in which the federal government has played a key role, have been an exemplary exercise in consultation, outreach, and cross-sectoral vision. The final document, which will be presented to FPT ministers later this month, has considerable strengths and virtues, and should serve as a strategic road map for sport in Canada over the next decade.

Notwithstanding these sound decisions in recent years, some of the key benchmarks in the sport world continue to move in the wrong direction.

Broader sport participation rates at the community level continue to stagnate. Private sector investments in sport, while still healthy, have been somewhat strained by the global economic downturn of 2009. One quarter of Canadian adults are obese. One quarter of Canadian children aged two to 17 are overweight or obese. And according to some, the economic costs of obesity rise as high as $7.1 billion. Data from several provinces suggest that community recreation infrastructure continues to be in need of repair or investment. The deficit has been estimated to be in the order of $15 billion. Some regions of the country, such as Alberta and the north, are considerably underserved by recreational and sporting infrastructure. Due to the influx of Canadians to Calgary, that city has a multi-billion-dollar need for new infrastructure.

Finally, 43% of Canadian schools fail to deliver on the primary outcomes of the physical education curriculum. Hence, many kids fail to develop the necessary building blocks of physical literacy, and are unable to pursue sport with any degree of confidence.

During our advocacy day on Parliament Hill, the sport, physical activity, and recreation sectors—supported, I should add, by the Heart and Stroke Foundation—had three main tasks. First, the federal government should continue to make a robust, sustainable, and predictable commitment to funding for both the core and high-performance sport systems. Secondly—this is more of a stretch target—2% of the $200 billion currently spent on conventional health care by all levels of government should be redirected towards physical activity, recreation, and sport as health promotion and prevention measures. Finally, the Government of Canada should, when fiscal circumstances permit, reinstate the recreational infrastructure program in order to remedy the multi-billion-dollar recreation and sport infrastructure gap.

Thank you for your time.

11:40 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

Thank you, Mr. Jones.

Mr. Lafontaine, go ahead.

June 5th, 2012 / 11:40 a.m.

Pierre Lafontaine Chief Executive Officer, Swimming Canada

Mr. Moore, thank you for the opportunity.

Those guys are good. I actually don't have much left to say. They said it all.

My name is Pierre Lafontaine. I'm the national swimming coach and CEO of Swimming Canada, which is a different role from most other sporting organizations. Usually they have a CEO and they have a national coach.

I moved here seven years ago from Australia because the Canadian swimming program was in disarray. They hadn't won a medal at the Olympics for several Olympic Games. I'm Canadian from the suburbs of Montreal, but I left the country in the early 1980s. One of the main reasons I decided to come back was I felt that in Canada the world of winning was possible again. People talked about winning. It wasn't like everybody had the Kumbaya approach, that everybody has to be nice to everybody. Following my arrival, Alex Baumann came. Alex had been living in Brisbane and I had been living in Canberra.

My sport represents 100,000 members, and two million kids who take swimming lessons. Not that I'm competitive, but more kids swim than play soccer. Before coming here today, I was wondering how to dress. I thought maybe I would come in my Speedo, but I thought that might not be the best thing for all of us.

Before getting on the plane and moving from Australia, I remember my buddies and swim coaches in Australia saying, “What? You're going to Canada? They're so bad in swimming. What are you doing?” At the pool where I coached, I had 16 kids, and eight of them were Olympic gold medallists. When I came to Canada, the whole country hadn't won one gold medal since 1992. Even sometimes I'd wonder what I was doing.

Regardless of where I live in the world, Canada is where I come from, and it's always dear to my heart. Even when I was coaching in the U.S. and Australia, there was always a piece of me going, “Man, we have to be better”. Swimming is a summer sport for Canada. It's what we do. We go sailing and boating. We swim in backyard pools. We go to the lake. It is the Canadian thing to do in the summer.

To me, part of my discussion with you today is not just about the Olympics, but about the power of what the Olympics do to a nation. We should be the first nation in the world that actually talks about having zero drownings. You probably don't know, but over 600 kids a year drown in Canada. Every one of them is somebody's daughter or son. I would hate to think that we don't apply ourselves to something as preventable as drowning, that we don't fight like crazy to make sure that every child in Canada knows how to swim, because that's how people enjoy Canada in the summer.

When I arrived here in 2005 we started a new strategic plan. Our plan was to have a family-friendly organization and to create an environment where every kid is safe, where there's respect for each other, where there's integrity within the program, where there's commitment and accountability on the part of the coaches, kids, and parents.

All of you know there are no children's sports without volunteers. If it weren't for volunteers in this country, we wouldn't have sports. Not long ago, in one of the budgets the government added a tax credit for volunteer firefighters. I would beg you to consider finding ways to recognize our volunteers across the nation who help with our youth program. I do believe that Own the Podium actually starts in all the municipalities. That's where the dream of ever being on the podium at the Olympics or the Paralympics begins.

We made our selection for the Olympic team in Montreal at the Olympic pool. We've been doing it since I've been back. The Olympic pool is our history. It's where people dream and great things happen for Canada. It hurt me throughout the 2010 Olympics when people said that we won our first gold medals ever on Canadian soil at our Olympic Games. I can tell you that if it weren't for the drugged East Germans in 1976, your swimmers alone would have won four gold medals. We're still suffering, and some of these kids are still suffering today because of that concept.

Your swimming team was also the first to have Olympic and Paralympic trials together. These kids are in the same pool. They train in the same pool. They're the same family. They are coached by the same coaches. It was a really great success. We had over 800 kids from around the country, over 5,000 spectators who watched it on TV, close to 100,000 on webcasting. Your team is now composed of 31 swimmers: 13 males, 18 females. We're ranked at anywhere between 10th and 12th at the Olympic Games.

I want to talk to you a little bit about what we've done during the last four years, just to prepare you for where we're going. We've planned three medals—that was our goal in 2005—and to create an environment to allow us to have three medals. That means a program for coaches, a program for clubs, a program for developing officials, and so on.

Also, let me just talk to you about the last four months. It's been quite exciting. We had a camp in Arizona. We brought the whole team. We brought sports psychologists, nutritionists, and so on. We also partnered with the Cirque du Soleil. The reason we partnered with the Cirque du Soleil is that it's one of the greatest organizations in the world in their art. They're great athletes. I approached them and I said I wanted to associate my organization with the best in the world and the best Canadians. They were so excited to work with us.

We ended up in Las Vegas in September for five shows, and our swimmers trained with their artists. Then when we came back for the Olympic trials, the next day we went to the new show in Montreal and trained with them for a day, and basically shared what it was about being the greatest in the world. That was really exciting for us.

Our camp will be in Italy prior to the Olympic Games. We're going to spend two weeks in Italy. The reason we're going there is I just felt that if we go to the British Isles, there's going to be so much hype. It's just too much. So we're going to stay in a little town of 7,000 people. The mayor of the town loves swimming. He put a 50-metre pool in the middle of this little village. It's going to be nice in Sardinia.

The reason I'm telling you this is because I believe the power of the sport is to inspire Canadians. It's to make every single child think, “My goodness, it's amazing to be Canadian”, number one, and that in fitness, the role of a child or the job of a child is to play. I strongly believe that part of our role here is to create an environment where every kid wants to do something. It doesn't have to be swimming—I'd love that. Having 10 million kids who swim would be great. Then they'd get so hot in soccer that they'd have to come to swim. That's why it's really important that we teach swimming to these kids.

I also believe that the power of teams and the power of sport is how we could use sport in schools to engage kids. I think our boys are having trouble in school. It's certainly one of the biggest tools to engage boys in school. I can tell you, I have two boys, and if it weren't for sports, I'm not sure they'd still be in school. I'm a big fan of sport in school and what it does to them in terms of building everything, which is learning to lose, learning to win, being a teammate, being a proud Canadian.

At the end, for me, it's about building dreams for Canadians and using our power to do that.

For you to understand the growth of the Olympic movement, in 1988 in my sport there were 80 countries. This year 185 countries are competing in swimming. It's something like 205 in track and field.

So it doesn't get any easier. It gets harder and harder. I could tell you that more and more governments around the world are using sport as a platform to sell what they do. The power that we have in our medals is what the medals will do post-Olympic Games to engage Canadians, to engage every child in the country.

I couldn't do it without the Government of Canada. I know we've all said this, but I keep telling you, there's no way we could do it without Sport Canada, Own the Podium, COC, the CPC. Even the messaging that's been taken out there now with you—I'm talking about what the government's saying—we believe in sport and the power of sport. We're going to keep funding this. What it did to our athletes was it made them think, “Wow, they believe in us. So if it's to be, it's up to me.” I think it was a great message.

I could tell you that my swimmers around the country are excited to represent you. Like Peter, they're not going there to participate. They want to go there and make you proud. They want to be there to engage the 40,000 swimmers we have in our swim club, the 1.5 million kids in our swimming lessons. That's why they do it. They do it for themselves too. I think at the end the fun thing is they want to get the tattoo of the maple leaf on their hearts. That's one of the great things swimmers want to do.

We can't do it without TV. We can't do it without great ethics in this country against drugs. I think we have to fight like hell—excuse the expression—to make sure we keep clean sports. We have problems with banned coaches who are still coaching on pool decks, or soccer fields, or hockey arenas. We have to do everything we can to stop that.

I'm going to close up with a few comments about having to find ways to build great after-school programs. That's where it all starts. That's where the kids in the schools need to be engaged.

I think the message that we should be and can be the fittest nation in the world is what we're about. I'm telling you that if you pass those messages to us over here, we'll do it for you. But we need the vision to be creative out there and say we deserve to be the fittest nation, no different from our children deserving the best school system in the world. There's no reason we're not the fittest nation in the world.

Through Mr. John Weston, on Saturday we started the first Health and Fitness Day in Canada, where we've pushed the municipalities to open every facility in their community for free on the first Saturday of June to promote healthy living and active living. Sports Day in Canada, September 29, is another great way to promote sport in Canada.

I would love to challenge each one of you. Terry Fox Day, which I think is September 16 or 17 this year, is an icon. I've lived around the world; he's an icon around the world. Almost a thousand races happen around the world—I was in Australia—and it brings Canadians together. I would love to think that we could get 308 MPs and 105 senators to run the Terry Fox Run and pass the message that fitness is important: be a healthy Canadian; life is important for Canada.

I'm going to finish with this. Thursday mornings I run swimming lessons for MPs at the Chateau Laurier, from 6:45 to 7:30. I've got about 15 of you who show up. Today I brought swim caps for every one of you. When we're done here, you can come and get the swim caps, and I expect you to be there. You don't have to wear Speedos. I'll provide goggles.

Thank you very much.

Actually, Ms. Joy Smith—I think from Winnipeg—came for the first time eight weeks ago. She hadn't swum in her life. Her brother had drowned. She learned to swim in 45 minutes and swam a lap at the Chateau Laurier. That was probably one of the greatest days—after 40 years of working with swimmers—one of the nicest days of my life for why I do what I do. It's to change lives and influence people to make great choices in their lives.

Thanks. Go, Canada, go.

11:50 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

Thank you, Mr. Lafontaine.

Thank you to our witnesses.

Now we'll move into our time for question and answer. We'll start with Mr. Young, for seven minutes.

11:50 a.m.


Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Welcome, everyone. Thank you for coming here today.

I'd like to ask Mr. Montopoli a question. I'm told that my town of Oakville has the highest number of coaches and players in Canada playing soccer, which is 12,000 young people and then coaches. I'm wondering how important these farm teams across Canada are in building your winning women's team. That is like the soccer movement. What is the connection? How important is it to have that?

11:50 a.m.

General Secretary, Canadian Soccer Association

Peter Montopoli

First off, I compliment you on being the largest club in North America.

11:50 a.m.


Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

Oh, we're the largest in North America.

11:50 a.m.

General Secretary, Canadian Soccer Association

Peter Montopoli

Compliments to you and your city for having the vision on how to do it correctly.

It's very wise of you to ask that question, because two of the players from your club are on our women's national team program. They've come up through the system through excellent volunteers and administrators and, more importantly, through excellent coaching programs that you've implemented in your club. I think your city and your club has probably done the best job in Canada promoting the sport and how to do it correctly from an infrastructure perspective, which is a key component in terms of usage of all the fields in your city and having that under the umbrella of the Oakville Soccer Club, versus many multiple clubs. Through that, the control of the system and programs has been uniform throughout, allowing players to understand what's required to be a national team player.

I applaud your city and the work you've done to provide excellent players, both on the men's and women's teams, but especially on the women's side, where we count on your club to produce those players.

11:55 a.m.


Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

Thank you.

We heard from Mr. Jones that a key health problem for Canadians, in particular young Canadians, is obesity. The elephant in the room, is these wonderfully engaging video games that create couch potatoes, whereas it would be much healthier for our young people to be out playing a sport.

You said 44% of all youth play soccer, which is an amazing number. Could you comment on what our young people get out of soccer in relation to their health, but also other skills and disciplines?

11:55 a.m.

General Secretary, Canadian Soccer Association

Peter Montopoli

Certainly. Thank you.

Really, the number one skill and discipline is being part of a team, and leadership skills, team skills, friendships, and the opportunity in our sport where it's not about one player, one focus. In my presentation I talked about the best player in the world, and we should all be proud of that, but it's about a team and a team concept. It's not about yourself.

I think those other life skills are taught through many of the sports. I guess I'm more familiar with our sport, more passionate about it, where you're part of a team to be successful; you're not that one individual to be successful. So relying on your teammates, being a competitor and a leader, and you're part of a team to achieve greater success is probably what you're learning through our sport.

11:55 a.m.


Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

Mr. Storgaard, the highest level of achievement at the Olympics and Paralympics is gold, but gold is really a symbol, I think, and it has a hidden meaning. That is what everybody strives to achieve, sort of what they learned along the way. I wonder if you could comment on what it does for Paralympic athletes to work toward achieving gold.

11:55 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer / Secretary General, Canadian Paralympic Committee

Henry Storgaard

Thank you very much for that question.

You're absolutely right: it's the journey, not the gold medal. I think that restores an individual's sense of pride, confidence, and achievement. To reflect on what Peter just said, that ability to be part of a team, to compete, to be the best in the world, all these things are vital to our athletes and to young children who have disabilities.

We have research that identifies that these children are isolated from society, in large part. They don't have as many friends, nowhere near as many friends as other kids, so it's vital for them to participate in sport, to have all those experiences that everybody else has in sport.

Our athletes are an incredible inspiration for all Canadians. They visit schools throughout the country, they speak at service clubs, and they are so proud to give back.

11:55 a.m.


Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

That's helpful, thank you.

Mr. Lafontaine, could you comment on how training in swimming and achievements transfers those skills and disciplines to other aspects of someone's life in other areas of endeavour? We often see how star athletes end up being achievers in whatever they do in life. Can you comment on the skills transfer?

11:55 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Swimming Canada

Pierre Lafontaine

Great question.

I'm sure very few parents will ever put their kids in sports to get to the Olympic Games. They do it to build all these great skills that you guys have brought. But what I find is that these kids are often very goal-oriented, because that's one of the concepts: we're going there in three weeks, six months, two years.

I think they've also learned to desire issues such as being a great team player. You look at the leaders within their area—for me in my sport, there are six lanes in a pool, and there's always the concept of concentration, attention to skills, attention to details—and they're getting ready long-term as competitions approach.

I think there are so many great qualities that these kids have, but one of the main ones is they're forced to plan their school work, they're forced to plan their day-to-day organization. So if they swim at 5:30 in the morning, they have to make their lunch the night before, and they have to do their homework. They have to do so many things that average kids don't do. Athletes often have a higher GPA at university than the average student. On top of that, they represent their schools with great pride.

One of the biggest challenges we have when we get to that point is that we have a lot of Canadian kids who go to U.S. colleges. In my sport, 150 of my best swimmers go to the NCAA system. So we have to build our CIS college system where they want to stay in Canada and they want the pride to be in a Canadian university. They get wooed by scholarships.

I can tell you that most great Canadians who compete at the international level for Canada, and they do well in Canada, have stayed in Canada through the college system. They go to Canadian universities. For me, there hasn't been a Canadian who won a gold medal for Canada who competed in the U.S. in terms of college systems. So I think the quality we're looking for in terms of planning and long-term thinking is the reason we put our kids into sports.