This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

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

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

That's what I want to get to. It is quite objective. Maybe I can—

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

You're out of time, Mr. Simms. These are seven-minute rounds, and that's seven minutes. That's how it works.

Mr. Armstrong.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank you all for your presentations. I don't quite know where to start, but I think I'll start here.

I was very pleased in the last couple of months to see that Steve Nash has joined our national men's basketball program at an administrative level. I think having him return to Canada and support us and help us out is going to be a great addition to our sport in Canada.

When he was in high school he played rugby, soccer, and basketball, and he played those sports until he graduated high school. There's great pressure on young athletes who show any promise or any talent in any sport to focus on that sport, leaving the other sports. I'm a person who believes that you should try to play as many sports for as long as you can, at least until you start high school. But there is great pressure and competition among coaches and community groups to try to draw the best talent, because many times they're the best athletes in all sports, particularly in smaller communities.

I'm just wondering, Mr. Jones, what are you thoughts on that issue?

12:15 p.m.

Senior Leader, Sport Matters Group

Chris Jones

Interestingly enough, Steve Nash went to the same high school I went to in Victoria, which is Mount Douglas High School, and then went on to another local school, St. Michaels University School.

We've heard Wayne Gretzky say this as well in the past. He believed that you should play multiple sports while you're young and develop a lot of different skill sets. Now there is a whole philosophy around long-term athlete development, which says there are optimum stages and periods when you want to begin to specialize that athlete if they have potential. So I think there is some science now that would suggest there are early specialization sports and later specialization sports.

I guess what you're referring to is the professionalization of children's amateur sport, and there are some regrettable sides to that. We see that in sport. We see that maybe in some hockey arenas at times, where overly enthusiastic parents are getting on the backs of the referees or the players, and that can turn some kids off. So I think there are some issues, and I think the sport policy process has been about educating parents and coaches and volunteers to say that it's about skill acquisition; it's about fun; it's about esprit de corps; it's about a lot of things.

Our general view is that when sport is done properly, it builds social capital, and it enhances the local community. After all, as Peter would know, in an era when so many of us are sitting in front of computer screens on a summer's evening, when parents meet on the sidelines and they sit and they talk, that builds social capital. They meet at pools; they meet at a lot of places. So I think that overall it's a healthy development, but there are those extremes where I think maybe we do specialize a bit too early.

June 5th, 2012 / 12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

I said two days ago, at our last meeting, that in Canada we have mostly volunteer coaches. Primarily when young people are coming up and they join a sport for the first time, it's a volunteer who is coaching them, such as a parent in the organization. We do have training programs for coaches. The volunteer coach is something we have to treasure in Canada.

In the United States, many times it's more professional, and the coaches are paid at least a stipend, whereas in Canada that doesn't happen very often.

You have to have a well-trained and certified volunteer coach. Then you need equipment, and you need a facility. If you have those three things, you can usually develop a pretty good program without a lot of high registration fees. Registration fees are definitely a hurdle to get over to participate at a high level, or just to stay in shape, particularly for children from less prosperous homes.

If you have those three things—the volunteer coach, the facilities, and the equipment—then the registration fees can stay low, and you can broaden that net at the bottom. What all of you have kind of touched on is that it is kind of this inverted pyramid. You want to get that base of people participating as large as possible. Then you focus on elite development as they move up that pyramid.

Having that base as wide as possible is also something the federal, provincial, and municipal governments should be supporting, because that is what's going to save us money in health care costs later on. Have people all start early, and try to open the door to everyone to involve as many as possible. Focus not just on elite development but actually have that bottom of the pyramid as broad as possible.

Am I accurate in saying that you are all in support of that model?

Maybe we'll start with Mr. MacAdam.

12:20 p.m.

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

Lane MacAdam

Yes, I would suggest that you look at the underpinnings of the long-term athlete development models pioneered by the Government of Canada so that each sport has a single song sheet that understands the various aspects of sport development within the sport. Whether it's a late-development sport, such as rowing or cross-country skiing, versus an early-development sport, such as gymnastics, they're all going to look a little different in terms of how you identify athletes, what kinds of skills you provide to the athletes, what kind of training you have, and what kinds of qualifications you need for the coaches at various levels. It all starts there.

There is no question that the Government of Canada is doing some work to ensure that there is cohesion around who does what so that there is no duplication. There's no question that there are certainly gaps. But certainly efforts over the last ten years, during the first phase of the Canadian sport policy process, have been trying to ensure better coordination among levels of government to identify those gaps and ensure that efforts are made to try to close them. And we are trying to make sure that we have qualified coaches training in those facilities and supporting those athletes in those facilities.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Thank you.

I want to ask Mr. Lafontaine one last question.

Australia's system is well respected among sporting communities. The system they have in Australia covers more than one sport. It is not just swimming, but other sports as well. Are they doing a better job, and if they are, how are they doing in casting this broad net and involving more people at a younger age? What are they doing that we're not that we could focus on?

12:20 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Swimming Canada

Pierre Lafontaine

That's a great question.

In the 1976 Olympics, if I remember the numbers well, Australia won only three medals. In 1979 a federal MP stood up in the House and said that it was un-Australian not to be a powerhouse in sport for any Australian. So they built the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, which is where I ended up working for several years. Basically, it became a vision from the top down, and schools embarked on it, and all of a sudden, because of that, so many other things fell into place. A company called Telstra actually would give any of their employees who were volunteers two paid hours out of their 40-hour week to coach little kids soccer or whatever. It became a national vision, and everything else fell into place.

I can tell you that my kids had mandated physical education all the way through high school. I think it is one of the major issues, especially for girls, because often programs are left to choice. A lot of girls don't want to get sweaty in high school, so the habits of fitness for girls are not as good. I think we have to work on that.

I know that education is a provincial program, but I also believe that people will embark on it if the vision is created for a nation.

To go back to the Australian model, another aspect is that they are 20 years ahead of us, and we're eating away at it two years at a time to get closer to them. The key is not to just get closer to them but to get much better than they are. Our coaching education system is the best in the world, but we just don't have enough people to coach the coaches.

I live in Chelsea, just north of here. We have 1,000 kids, out of 7,000 people, who play soccer. We can't find enough coaches and dads and moms. If I happen to drive by the soccer field, they'll lasso me in to coach soccer, and I know nothing about soccer. That's how desperate some of them are, including for hockey. We have to work at building the base.

The other aspect would be to entice universities to have programs in physical education that specialize in coaching, not just in physical education, for example. There are only a few universities in Canada that do that.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

Thank you, Mr. Armstrong.

Mr. Dubé.

Now we're into five-minute rounds.

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I have a question for Mr. Storgaard about parasports and the Paralympic Games. Over the weekend, in my constituency, I had an opportunity to spend an afternoon with people from the Association des personnes handicapées de la Vallée-du-Richelieu, Richelieu Valley association for the disabled. During that afternoon, they let us try out the equipment used by athletes, such as the hockey sledge. That kind of equipment is fairly difficult to use, as it turns out. It's really very demanding, especially on the upper body. The equipment and the technology are evolving. You talked a bit about that issue when you mentioned wheelchairs, for instance. That's constantly evolving.

That being said, what do you think about maintaining our progress? You talked about certain measures for supporting parasports and their development. Those sports have a lot of positive consequences. Things are constantly changing. We are still not at a point where anyone with a disability can easily participate in activities. What more can be done to keep those fine initiatives going?

12:25 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer / Secretary General, Canadian Paralympic Committee

Henry Storgaard

Thank you for that question.

As a matter of fact, in Quebec, at the University of Sherbrooke, we have researchers and research facilities helping to develop equipment for Paralympic athletes or athletes with disabilities. We're working very diligently, not only at the University of Sherbrooke but also with different universities across the country, on research and innovation that allows athletes with disabilities to participate, and to participate at optimum levels.

It is very challenging. I don't know if anybody here has tried to get into one of the sledges used in playing sledge hockey. It's very low to the ice. It's not easy. It's challenging. And we have wheelchair rugby. As well, these are like chariots from Roman times. A tremendous amount of innovation and research is going on.

In terms of what else we can do, it really depends on financial resources in terms of focusing on that, and obviously working with more universities, more research organizations to help these people. We've seen a good example. Athlete Oscar Pistorius from South Africa is a blade runner. He has two large blades. He's a double amputee. He's now trying to qualify for the Olympics. I think he has one event left over the next couple of weeks to see if he can be the first double amputee to do that.

I think it has great benefit. All the wheelchairs being built will benefit the general public and society.

I'm not sure if you're aware, but four million Canadians have physical disabilities.

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

As my time is limited, I have to interrupt you. I am sorry.

That being said, I think that innovation is a key aspect. You mentioned the price of a wheelchair. So we see that disabled people face some financial barriers, especially for the reasons you mentioned, such as social isolation. Unfortunately, that means some of them have to live with lower incomes. Are there any initiatives to encourage participation in sports, so as to make it more affordable?

12:30 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer / Secretary General, Canadian Paralympic Committee

Henry Storgaard

That chair was an example of someone competing at the top of the elite sport at the world-class level. We are working with suppliers across the country, with corporate sponsors, and with government support, to help with the accessibility to further equipment for children in schools, community centres. That's going on right now. These are much more affordable for an average family in terms of access.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

Thank you, Mr. Dubé.

Ms. Grewal, go ahead.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Nina Grewal Conservative Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Thank you, Chair.

Welcome, and thank you for your time and your presentation as well.

I think I can speak for everyone present when I say how proud I was of our Canadian athletes during the Vancouver Winter Olympics. As a B.C. MP, I found it particularly satisfying to witness so close at hand our athletes showing to the world that we are home to many of the world's top athletes.

Historically, we know that Canada cannot expect to take in such a large medal haul during the summer games. Still, I know that our athletes will make us proud.

My question concerns Own the Podium. This important program is helping to build a world-class national sport system, one that will help Canadian athletes succeed at the highest level. To your knowledge, how is the Own the Podium program assisting our athletes, and will it make a difference to the results we see this summer in London? Any one of you can answer that.

12:30 p.m.

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

Lane MacAdam

The Government of Canada is a proud and founding partner in the Own the Podium initiative, which began, as you point out, in the lead-up to the Vancouver games. It has recently been incorporated as a national non-profit corporation, so there's a strong commitment to ensure its continuity.

The Government of Canada is the largest funding provider of the resources Own the Podium makes recommendations against. About 85% of the funding that Own the Podium recommends is actually from the tax base. I know colleagues around the table could speak to the important impact that those funding envelopes have provided in the preparations for both Vancouver and London. The Government of Canada sees that this is an important initiative to continue, based on the very successful track record we have so far, and we're optimistic that we'll achieve our goals in London as well.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Nina Grewal Conservative Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

How many Paralympic athletes will Canada send to the Paralympic Games in London?

12:30 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer / Secretary General, Canadian Paralympic Committee

Henry Storgaard

We will proudly send 150 athletes to London.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Nina Grewal Conservative Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

I see.

As noted in the Department of Canadian Heritage's report on plans and priorities for 2012–13, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee, in collaboration with the Own the Podium initiative and Sports Canada, are aiming for a top 12 finish in total medals at the 2012 Olympic Games and a top eight finish in gold medals at the Paralympic Games. How confident are you that Canada will reach these goals?

12:30 p.m.

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

Lane MacAdam

As I mentioned, the trajectory on the summer side is certainly improving. Our medal tallies, from Sydney, from Athens, from Beijing, are all on an upswing. We are optimistic that the recent additional investment in summer sport will pay dividends. As you mentioned, the top 12 is the target. That will probably require 20 to 25 medals on the Olympics side. It's difficult to say exactly. On the Paralympics side, we're probably looking at 35 to 45 medals. Again, depending on the distribution of medals from other countries, a top eight finish is ambitious but achievable.

The Paralympic side—and Henry can comment on this too—is becoming much more competitive. Canada was an early entrant into the Paralympic sport world, but more countries are investing more, and there's much more competition for those scarce medals. It certainly won't be easy for us in London, but we believe our athletes are well prepared to take that challenge on.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Nina Grewal Conservative Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Have preparations for these Paralympic Games been different from those of earlier games?

12:35 p.m.

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

Lane MacAdam

Henry, maybe you can jump in here.

I think the investment in the athletes and programs, the coaching, the training competition, the sports science and medicine—all these things are at an all-time high. There is more sophistication in the planning and preparation for these athletes. As I mentioned earlier, we had one athlete win 10% of our medals in Beijing. She has now retired. Unfortunately, the depth of field in some of these Paralympic events is not as great as it might be in able-bodied sports.

I know that's a challenge Henry and his colleagues are working on, to try to encourage as many young Canadians as would be interested in participating in Paralympic sport across both winter and summer games, but it is certainly a challenge. Some of these athletes come to the sport quite late in life, through tragic accidents or through coming back from war-torn areas, etc. So it's a little more difficult to have that pipeline of athletes to supply our future national teams, but we're feeling quite confident that we're very prepared for London.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

Thank you, Mrs. Grewal.

Ms. Sitsabaiesan.

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thanks to all of you for joining us today.

Last week the British high commissioner was here talking about the London games, and the key underpinning he talked about was the importance of the legacy and what the games mean beyond the games. I guess my question is to Mr. MacAdam, or whoever else would like to add.

What is it that we're doing to prepare for that legacy? What is that legacy? This of course is addressing the Pan Am Games, because I know they're being hosted in Toronto. They are on a smaller scale than the Olympics would be, but still important to communities like mine in Scarborough. What are we doing to build that legacy? What is our legacy going to be? Are we focusing on building in our communities and investing in our local communities around where the games are to be held? For instance, we spoke earlier and you mentioned the pool that's being built in Scarborough. It's great. What are we doing to build the communities or invest in the communities around the Pan Am Games?

12:35 p.m.

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

Lane MacAdam

Thank you for your question.

Certainly the Pan Am Games are an exciting opportunity for Canada to continue its strong tradition of hosting major multi-sport events. Certainly we've seen the impact that legacies will have. You will know that in our winter programs a lot of the athletes who succeeded in Vancouver trained on the facilities we built 22 years ago in Calgary. Through some foresight of early planners then, there were legacy funds put in place to ensure that those facilities would continue to operate and not be a burden and not become white elephants afterwards.

We've certainly learned from that. We've certainly learned from other major events, whether it's the Victoria Commonwealth Games or the games in Vancouver, where there are legacy funds in place. About $400 million of public investment are going into creating facilities for the games at all levels. There are the three key legacy facilities that are being planned by the Government of Canada that include the Scarborough swimming and aquatic centre, the velodrome in Milton, and an athletic facility at York University. There is also a plan in place to ensure that there is a robust legacy fund in place that will actually serve to help with the programming and operating costs of those facilities post-games.

I would also like to point out that we don't have the luxury in Canada of having these dedicated facilities only for high-performance sport. They must serve other purposes. So the aquatic centre in Scarborough is a perfect example where it will serve a growing community need in the area that is growing by leaps and bounds in terms of population. It will also serve the growing university community.

The combination of local, university, and high-performance use will make this facility very vibrant in the community and hopefully will allow swimmers of all ages to train alongside national heroes but also ensure that those learn-to-swim programs for moms and tots are also made available.