Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
My name is François Lemay.
I would first like to thank Ms. Larouche for her invitation and for persuading me to come here today.
Hearing the testimony today, I can assure you that I am very humbled to be here today. I have over 30 years' experience as a volunteer and in sports administration in Quebec. However, I do not have the experience of Ms. Lafrenière, who trains the trainers in Canada, nor have I shown the courage demonstrated by Ms. McCormack and Ms. Da Silva Rondeau in my career. With that said, I am before you today to talk about my experience on the ground and in the development of young athletes. I train teams of boys and girls: mixed teams.
In recent months, due to a combination of circumstances in the media, I became a sort of unofficial spokesperson for parents who were furious with Hockey Canada. We were the first, in Granby, to speak out against our national federation, by refusing to pay our dues, among other things. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, but little tangible progress has been made. While there were only a few of us rebelling against Hockey Canada, we were stunned to learn that the Canadian government was powerless, so to speak, before a national federation: it had no direct leverage other than money and public opinion.
On top of that, we saw the failure of Sport Canada, rightly condemned by Justice Cromwell, in its role as toothless guard dog. So I ask you, our elected representatives: who is guarding the guards, especially when the board of directors is useless?
As a parent, I am involved in my children's sports 12 months a year: schedule planning, training camps, practices, evaluations, games, 12‑hour days at tournaments, and much more. We are disappointed to see that even our federal government, or its delegate Sport Canada, is unable to take action directly, and we are overcome by discouragement. We don't have time to handle the governance of our national bodies, since we are on the playing field four or five times a week. We were entitled to trust an institution like Sport Canada. In light of the news reports and the recent testimony, we have to admit that this was a mistake.
In fact, the problem concerning amateur sport in Canada lies precisely in the word: “amateur”. The bulk of Canadian sports development rests on the shoulders of volunteers acting in good faith, but whose resources and experience are limited. While in Europe there is the civil club structure, and in the United States a network is taking shape in the secondary schools, in Canada we have a weird mixture of the two models, where there is a fundamental absence of professionalization.
Organizing a tournament, registrations, and, in a pinch, a budget: experienced volunteers can get those jobs done. However, to build a sports program based on long-term athlete development, to handle an abuse or harassment situation fairly, to establish governance and organizational transparency and to develop a strategic plan for women's sport takes time, experience, and the necessary training.
What we are seeing in the upper echelons of sport came from somewhere. The toxic culture did not appear by magic; it was allowed to grow, through a lack of experience and resources. Even with all the good will in the world, amateur sport is defined, for the most part, by cohorts of volunteer parents in succession, and this leaves too much room for error and abuses.
If we want to do something concrete to improve and help Canadian sport and, necessarily, help women's sport, which has enormous potential, the various governments have to commit to supporting volunteers. Amateur sport has to be professionalized and volunteer training in governance and development of their sport has to be funded. It is bizarre, for example, for the Canadian women's handball team to have to fundraise in order to qualify for the Pan American Games. In the same vein, it is bizarre for volunteers to have to investigate and monitor possibly abusive coaches. There are high hopes for our athletes and a lot is asked of our volunteers, but few resources are offered or it's gone about the wrong way.
To achieve this, we could start by allowing a tax deduction for the first $5,000 in income earned from refereeing or league management. The federal and provincial governments could also agree to fund full-time positions in amateur sports clubs directly. Sport Canada and its missions could also be reformed.
However, above all, there has to be cohesion in amateur sport. There are a lot of actors around the table whose roles are ill-defined. The more fractured amateur sport is, the bigger the opening there will be for mismanagement. Shaky leadership tends to go to ground when things are not working, but everyone is available to pick up a trophy.
I am not talking about a one-size-fits-all solution that would apply to all sports. Each discipline has its own circumstances. For example, handball needs resources, while hockey needs governance. The volunteers across Canada need your tangible help. We need full-time sports staff, not to replace us, but to keep our efforts going, and especially to guarantee more safety for our girls and boys. Canadian sport has to be modernized.
Thank you for the time you have given me.