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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

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

Thank you, Mr. Young.

Mr. Nantel.

Noon

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the witnesses for making their presentations.

I would like to come back to the comments made by Mr. Montopoli and Mr. Jones, who talked about the importance of municipal infrastructure, and of concrete and ongoing support for families and young people. I also have a question for Mr. MacAdam.

Last weekend, I attended a classic tournament organized by the Express soccer club, from Boucherville. Almost 100 teams of young amateurs participated. The technical director of the Association régionale de soccer de la Rive-Sud, Valmie Ouellet, came up to me to point out an eight-year-old girl wearing number 9. She told me that the girl had been noticed, and she was supposed to join a workshop. I did not really understand. It all seemed very advanced. Ms. Ouellet had noticed a special ability in that girl, probably even in a specific position—for instance, as a left winger.

Mr. MacAdam, are the federal envelopes for supporting local sporting initiatives significant?

Noon

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

Lane MacAdam

Thank you, Mr. Nantel.

Clearly, the federal contribution is mostly aimed at national activities, through national federations. However, as Mr. Montopoli would probably confirm, his mandate does not consist only in developing the national team and our Olympic teams. Earlier, we talked about the local team, in Oakville, which produces thousands of young athletes. Those kinds of clubs help athletes get noticed. Young athletes with the talent and abilities needed to reach higher levels are identified. I hope that they receive funding and support, first at the local level, and then at the provincial level. Eventually, they are recognized by the junior national team; they undergo better training, participate in training camps and international competitions and, some day, join the national team.

The development system varies slightly from one sport to another. You have surely heard about the long-term athlete development model, which applies to every sport and helps determine how skilled athletes must be in order to compete at higher levels.

When I started playing soccer, at 10, we played on a large field. Over the course of a 90-minute match, we would touch the ball for about three minutes. However, things are completely different nowadays. The field has been adapted for four-on-four matches. Heavy emphasis is placed on skill development to help those young people get noticed and allow the ones with the required talent and interest to compete for Canada internationally.

Noon

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Thank you.

There is no doubt that federal support is necessary.

I would like to yield the floor to my colleague Matthew Dubé, who has a question about that.

Noon

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

I want to begin by thanking you for joining us. I also want to congratulate you on the accomplishments you have highlighted.

Several of you have talked about issues related to youth activity, volunteering, and so on. I have my own little theory about that. I think that we may be victims of our own success, in the sense that young people are increasingly aware of the possibility to succeed. Previous successes result in much higher standards, and information dissemination makes it possible to watch performances much more easily than in the past. In particular, there is the whole YouTube phenomenon.

With that in mind, it may be important to create programs—especially at the local level—that will be ongoing and produce higher-calibre Olympic athletes. When I coached soccer and hockey teams, I often noticed that young people would quit because the programs were—let's be honest—kind of ill-conceived. Measures for achieving success were non-existent, coaches were not well-trained, and so on.

My question is for everyone. How can those programs be improved? Even though federal envelopes are mostly intended for national use, I think that they should still have a local component, so that lives in our communities can be improved and we can provide you with high-calibre athletes in preparation for the Olympic Games.

Mr. Jones?

12:05 p.m.

Senior Leader, Sport Matters Group

Chris Jones

That's a good question. I think I have two responses. First, there is now a movement that's gaining attraction and a foothold in Canada, and that's the Canadian sport for life movement. It is attempting to teach parents and coaches about the sort of natural progression of a young athlete who in the first year should have a focus on fun, participation, and structured kind of play, and then over time to impart certain technical skills.

I think, though, the issue all governments need to grapple with at some point is the fact that in our school system there aren't enough qualified physical educators teaching sports. What we have are generalists. English and science teachers are teaching sport and physical activity to kids. I think the legacy of that—and we have heard this from various national sport organizations—is we have national sports organizations teaching 18-year-olds remedial athletic skills such as jumping, throwing, catching, that kind of stuff. That's because there's been a failure in the system lower down in the school system. I know that's not a federal jurisdiction, but I think that is an issue we're going to need to grapple with over time.

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Lafontaine, you talked about a tax credit for volunteers who coach, and I think that's a worthwhile suggestion. To come back to what I wanted to point out earlier, that kind of support is very important. Community support begins there and continues until athletes reach your level.

Could you tell us more about that? It's an interesting idea that would help us maintain our Olympic Games success.

12:05 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Swimming Canada

Pierre Lafontaine

There are several points in all that. First, recognizing volunteers is very important. In 2004, the Howard government, in Australia, said that Canada and the United States had conducted studies that pointed to a major obesity problem. They said that Australia had the same problem. Within three weeks, that government invested an additional $100 million in after-school programs. In the first year, those programs had an impact on 180,000 young people. Eighty-five per cent of young people had never been involved in organized sports before that. They found a way to make it work in schools.

For all of us, we started in grade school. That's where we played soccer in the gym and so on.

That's one of the key points. The relationship between national and provincial federations is very important. It's not just a matter of having an Olympic program and all that. As Mr. Jones pointed out, we have to have a well-planned program. That way, when a four-year-old child starts playing soccer, what they learn from their coach will be in line with what major athletes do. Those aspects are all interrelated.

The Coaching Association of Canada works very hard on reassessing the coaching program and making it much more adapted to today's technology, so that people from Gander, Newfoundland, or Fort St. John, British Columbia, can have access to coaching courses just as easily as people living in Toronto or in Montreal.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

Thank you.

Mr. Simms, for seven minutes.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

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

Thank you.

I'm going to follow from that line of questioning. I want to talk about something that was said in the presentation. I think Mr. Lafontaine mentioned it—owning in the municipalities—and also Mr. Jones. I've always thought, yes, the municipalities should also own their athletes and should be proud to take credit for what they've done.

For example, back in the late sixties there was a massive infrastructure program around the centennial celebrations, the 100-year celebrations, which I'm sure you're familiar with.

12:10 p.m.

A voice

[Inaudible--Editor].

June 5th, 2012 / 12:10 p.m.

Liberal

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

Yes, exactly. There were a lot of arenas built—hockey arenas especially.

One of the hockey players involved in a stadium in a town called Bonavista was Michael Ryder. You talk about paying dividends.... They built this stadium many years ago, and just last year the Stanley Cup was paraded through that particular stadium. So it pays back in a way that's quite profound. Also, I think that when it comes to the Alex Baumanns of the world and the Victor Davises of the world, it also pays off in the local pools.

You brought up the rink program, which I think is something we should give serious consideration to resurrecting on a grander scale, because I do believe that the dividends are tremendous. So what you do is you have the municipalities in charge of their recreation, but with help about the infrastructure, because the smallest of the communities have a hard time leveraging this money to help to create.... Now, obviously not every community is going to have a 50-metre pool, but they can certainly have a pretty good soccer pitch, or they can have a pool where people can learn the basics and go from there to get them through college and maybe into the Olympics.

I was wondering about this. Do you think the smaller municipalities are crying for this once more?

12:10 p.m.

Senior Leader, Sport Matters Group

Chris Jones

I think it's our sense that it was an extremely popular initiative that had a lot of mayors in the queue and a lot of projects that were funded, and yet it probably only scratched the surface. In the depths, it is still in the order of about $15 billion. In some cases it's extremely pronounced because of demographic shifts and the arrival of new Canadians and so on.

One thing I think we saw in the Canadian sport policy process is that we now need to rationalize our resources so that maybe we create what are called multi-sport complexes, rather like the Germans do, where you're going to put a number of facilities together in one place. You might have a rugby training pitch, an arena, and an indoor synthetic field. If an athlete shows an aptitude at a certain age and the coaches decide that maybe that kid could do another sport, you could easily move him, because the coaches would be there—the athletic trainers—and I think that particular model has some virtues we need to look at.

As to the program, I think it has a lot of merit, and when circumstances permit, we should look at re-authorizing it.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

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

So creating these plays with the flexibility and with the infrastructure that allows flexibility within the smaller communities--I totally agree.

I want to jump topics now and get to rugby. Pardon my ignorance on the sport of rugby, but is there a professional league on a grander scale that we participate in as Canadian athletes?

12:10 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Rugby Canada

Graham Brown

There is professional rugby around the world, but not in North America, so the majority of our particular men's national team players do play over in the U.K.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

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

Okay. Now, can we expect to see these athletes in the Olympics, the top players in the world...?

12:10 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Rugby Canada

Graham Brown

Yes. All of our athletes who go overseas to play all come back when we ask them to play for Canada. There's no problem.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

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

Okay. The professional athletes certainly are into the Olympics for rugby.

12:10 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Rugby Canada

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

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

All right. So New Zealand stands a good chance of getting a medal, or South Africa, these nations—

12:10 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Rugby Canada

Graham Brown

And so does Canada.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

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

Yes.

Because in hockey, let's face it, right now what supplants on the level of a World Cup of soccer is really the hockey gold medal. I think that's safe to say. It sounds like rugby could be the same. But what about for soccer now? We're not necessarily at that level, are we?

12:10 p.m.

General Secretary, Canadian Soccer Association

Peter Montopoli

In terms of our best players playing on our men's and women's teams, absolutely 100%. In terms of the competitive level, again, on the women's side, we are second-best in CONCACAF, which is our region of North America, Central America and the Caribbean countries. We're just behind the United States, which has been the number one country for the last 15 years and running. We have competed with them.

On the men's side.... And I'm glad Pierre brought this up, because while swimming, track, and Olympics have a large majority of countries, nobody competes with FIFA. FIFA has 209 countries participating. It's the largest governing body in the world. So we are competing against 208 countries, and to be at the top level is a proposition that's bit more difficult. We are starting our qualification this Friday for the men's World Cup, so we are halfway through the process in terms of qualification—

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

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

Sorry to interrupt, but I don't have a lot of time. When you sit down here by yourself, they don't afford you a lot of time.

I want to talk about the role of professionalism in the sense of the money it brings. Let's face it, the money we put into development associations for hockey simply because of the Canadian hockey team in the Olympics is phenomenal. For soccer it might not be at that level, but for rugby it could be much the same.

Maybe this is a question for Mr. MacAdam. How do you mesh the amount of money that can be brought into the development associations when it comes to hockey, as opposed to something like swimming or maybe something a little more down the line, we'll say—no offence to this sport—fencing or something like that? Obviously they cannot garner the amount of commercial interest that other sports can.

Go ahead.

12:15 p.m.

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

Lane MacAdam

Thank you for your question.

Through the federal funding envelopes there are two yardsticks we use to assess the investments that go into the various national sports that we fund. There are about 55 national federations that are financially supported by the federal government. We have a policy tool called the sport funding and accountability framework, which assesses each sport based on its membership, the pan-Canadian nature of the sport, its international success. So there is a fairly objective tool that differentiates between one sport—