House of Commons Hansard #239 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was support.


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5:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I am sorry but the hon. member's time has expired.

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5:05 p.m.


Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question will be a short one.

The hon. member seems to have really followed the debate, read the report, and followed everything that was said when the subcommittee on sport examined the question.

I would like his comment on what Sports Québec said eight years ago at the time of the last study. What it said was as follows:

Only rarely are national associations able to deliver services properly in French, whether providing documentation or delivering programs. Moreover, the development of national training centres in cities offering little if any services in French also constitutes a demotivating factor for a number of francophones in the field.

Since then we have had many examples of this, including Nagano where everything was in English. French appears not to be used, or banished from amateur sport even at fairly high levels.

Since the hon. member has experience and appears to be abreast of the issues, I would like to ask him whether he finds it acceptable that everything, or practically everything, is in English, and that all francophone amateur sports people and all the people working in amateur sport are at a disadvantage compared to the anglophones.

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5:05 p.m.


George Proud Liberal Hillsborough, PE

Mr. Speaker, Canada is a bilingual country. Anyone can have the sport of choice in the language of choice.

On the international scene English is the international language. We did make recommendations that all these sporting events be made bilingual.

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5:05 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal member made reference to the fact that only a small proportion of Canadians can touch their toes. I just want to point out to him that if God wanted us to touch our toes, He would have put them where our knees are. Then I would be able to do that too.

Seriously, though, my question has to do with federal support of amateur sports. The greatest contribution the federal government can make toward amateur sports is to enable families to have enough money left in their pockets to look after the needs of their families.

The way it is right now we are taxed to death at every turn. Governments at all three levels spend 50% of our earnings. After we pay for our rent, our transportation, our clothing, our food and our utilities, there is no money left.

There are many families, and I have spoken to some, who would like to have their youngsters enrolled in some amateur sports but they cannot afford the money. It costs quite a bit to enrol them and to pay for their share of the rental of the facility and so on. Why do we not just simply give families a tax break, leave more money in their pockets so that they can do that, and let them participate?

The idea of taxing everybody to death and then trying to pick out some groups to give grants to is insane.

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5:10 p.m.


George Proud Liberal Hillsborough, PE

Mr. Speaker, many of the recommendations in our report deal with tax breaks to individual families. We all know how Reform views amateur sport funding as a waste of money. We just have to look at the May 1998 edition of the waste report produced by Reform member for St. Albert in which he listed all the examples the Reform Party considered to be wasteful government spending. He included the $9,720 grant that our government provided to a particular athlete in 1996.

Yes, I believe there has to be more tax breaks for people to get their children involved in amateur sport. We put that in our report. I think we will see it come to fruition in the days to come.

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5:10 p.m.


Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to comment on the government's response to the recommendations of the subcommittee. I am pleased that the government has taken action on over 75% of them.

The hon. member's question implies that athletes are not currently at the heart of the concerns of the government. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am pleased to be able to speak about the government's commitments to athletes in our new funding both to the athletes directly and to the systems which support them.

I would also like to speak about a commitment the government made to athletes during the last election campaign. We promised an additional $10 million per year for five years. We have kept that promise.

On January 22, 1998, the Minister of Canadian Heritage announced the new funding for sports: $10 million per year starting in the 1998-99 fiscal year for five years. At that time the minister said that when one of our athletes succeeds on the world stage all Canadians from every walk of life and every corner of our nation shares in that victory.

That is what this announcement is all about. Indeed that is what Canada is all about. This announcement was about providing additional support to athletes in three areas: training, competition opportunities for athletes, support for coaches of athletes and direct assistance to athletes.

At the same time the new initiatives would enhance the government's efforts related to access and equity for traditionally underrepresented groups including women, athletes with a disability and aboriginal people.

Seeing Canadian athletes represent Canada on the world stage provides Canadians with a strong sense of national pride. Canada's high performance athletes are excellent role models for all Canadians, particularly our youth. Their achievements instil pride and inspire youth to pursue excellence in sports and other endeavours. Our athletes also serve as international ambassadors, reflecting Canadian values in the world at large.

Sports provide Canadian youth with important opportunities for personal development as well employment skills through specialized training and experiences. With the new funding for sports the federal government's budget for sports is about $60 million per year. Of that $8.8 million go directly to athletes, $35.4 million to sports organizations and programs, and $15.5 million to games hostings. The athletes are at the centre of our expenditures whether directly or indirectly.

I will give a few more details about the new funding for sports and how it is being used to directly benefit Canada's high performance athletes. In the area of athlete support, the purpose of these new funds is to support more high performance athletes who are in the developmental stage. This support is important for young developing athletes because of full time training on a year round basis which is necessary for athletes to be competitive at the international level.

Before the new funding for sports the number of athletes receiving assistance was quite frankly insufficient to ensure continued development. We needed to provide additional support to developing athletes and we have done that. In addition, we wanted to support more female athletes and to provide more support for athletes with disabilities.

Our objective with the new funding for sports in this area is to provide direct financial support for living and training expenses and tuition support for an additional 300 high performance athletes each year. We are providing additional assistance to an increased number of senior level national team athletes and an increased number of junior and developing athletes and an increased number of athletes with a disability.

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5:15 p.m.

An hon. member


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5:15 p.m.


Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

I agree with the hon. member behind me, it is good.

The second area of the new funding is coaching. Access to qualified coaches is a key ingredient for athletic success. In the area of coaching support, our objective is to provide increased support to high performance coaching and to create new full time positions for high performance coaches in order to enhance international athlete development and to improve athlete development programs.

An increased number of qualified and full time coaches is widely recognized as essential to Canadian athletes achieving their potential in international competition. Also critical to achieving this objective is the creation of stable employment positions, including adequate compensation and professional development opportunities.

Through the new funding initiative we will increase the number of federally funded high performance coaches; increase the number of coaches working with athletes with disabilities; supplement existing salaries and honoraria for current high performance coaches; support professional development and training opportunities for coaches; provide apprenticeship and mentoring initiatives to increase the number of women in career track coaching positions; provide coaching development opportunities for aboriginal coaches. Our overall objective is to double the number of high performance coaches currently funded by the Government of Canada over the five year period of the new funding for sports.

The third area of investment with the new funding for sports relates to increasing access to high performance training and competition opportunities. Access to top calibre international competition is necessary for our athletes to achieve their objectives in the international competitions, including world championships, the Olympics and Paralympic Games. It is not enough to simply train without testing skills and abilities against world level competition. Our objective with this new funding is to provide high performance athletes with increased access to world class training programs and services and to high calibre competitions in order to improve results at world championships and the Olympics and Paralympic Games.

Specifically the new funding has provided more opportunities for high quality training, improved the training environment through the provision of enhanced services for athletes, and provided more opportunities for athletes to compete at international events. In addition, the funding has been made available to develop programming for aboriginal athletes who have demonstrated a high performance potential.

In the short term the new initiatives to be undertaken for athletes through the new funding for sports should result in enhanced performance by athletes at the Olympics and Paralympic Games in 2000 and 2002 and at other world championships. In the long term they will also provide much needed support to develop top level high performance coaches and nurture the development of the next tier of athletes.

We are very proud of our commitment to high performance athletes through our ongoing financial support and in particular the new funding for sports. We are proud of the many young Canadians who compete for Canada on the international stage.

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5:20 p.m.


Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I agree that sports and amateur sports in particular is very important. It is a very essential part of our society and something which certainly builds character in our young people.

There is one thing I would like some clarification on by the hon. member. He spoke quite a bit about investment in high performance athletes, high performance coaching, high performance training and so forth, about the top level. While that is important, sometimes there is tremendous pressure for our young people to always be on top. People have gotten past the stage where they can enjoy sports, have fun, relax and build character that way. Sometimes there is so much pressure on young people to always be at the top, to be at a high level and of top quality. It creates more stress and concern for them than if they could just enjoy the sport.

The member talked about the funding that has been provided and the investment being made in our young people. What form of funding or investment is available for families? Perhaps the children are in one parent families and they cannot afford the latest high quality equipment that would make them look professional. They would like to just go out, have fun and be encouraged in sports in that way. What is the government doing in that regard?

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5:20 p.m.


Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, in my own community I have been a Kinsmen dealing with service clubs for 25 years. We have worked with minor sports in our area. I agree with what the member is saying, that sports is to have fun but there are also role models in sports. That is what we see the government committing money to right now, the role models on the international stage whom we try to emulate in the small sports we have fun with.

The member asked what is available for families. There are a number of initiatives the government is working on right now in terms of single wage earner families and so on. There are tax issues where we are working for low income Canadians. These all fit into giving Canadians extra money so they can spend that money where they see fit. If it happens to be sports, then that is what they do.

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5:20 p.m.


Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, earlier today I put a question on budgets to my colleague from Drummond. I will put the same question to an hon. member of the government party, to see if he thinks the situation is normal.

During the years of drastic cuts, the budget for amateur sports was reduced to less than $50 million a year, while the government gave more than $20 million to the infamous Canada Information Office and about twice the budget of amateur sports to propaganda, including the million flags project of the Minister of Canadian Heritage. During the same period, funds given to amateur sports were dangerously reduced. Even with the funds that the Minister of Canadian Heritage calls new, the budget for amateur sports remains at about $57 million when, in 1993, before the Liberals came to power, it was $76 million.

The government member says that the government is very proud of our amateur athletes and our coaches when they win medals, but the amounts invested and the cuts made since the Liberals came to power do not necessarily reflect that pride. Could we not say that there is a contradiction between what the Liberals say and what they do?

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5:20 p.m.


Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member across the way talks about contradiction. Let us go back six years to 1993 and look at where the finances of the country were at that time. We were running a $42.5 billion deficit. We had close to $600 billion of accumulated public debt. Our government came in and got the financial house of the government back in order. He is right. Cuts were made to amateur sports. Cuts were made to everything to get the government's books back in line. We have done that.

We also promised in the 1997 election that when we started generating surpluses we would start putting the money back in in a strategic fashion. That is exactly what we are doing right now. We are living up to that commitment.

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5:25 p.m.


Myron Thompson Reform Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am sharing my time with my hon. colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

I appreciate the opportunity to respond to this motion which I support. It has a lot of good things in it. I will also comment on the Mills report on sport in terms of the positive things and of course some negative things that have come out of that.

I caution all committees, or whomever will be responsible for putting these kinds of things together, that we be careful with regard to creating another federal department. It brings in another bureaucracy which we have a tough time funding now. We are bureaucracy crazy. Everything is run by bureaucracies. I would really be cautious with this idea of setting up a separate federal department.

Instead of suggesting a study be done on the feasibility of legalized betting on sport, I would suggest we forget the study. The Liberal government seems to be study crazy. It has more studies for this and that and committees looking at this and that, studies on seniors and sexuality and all these idiotic committees. Another one is legalized betting on sport. Legalized betting is not what sport is all about. Forget the committee. Just scrap that whole idea.

I have spent many years of my life educating and coaching our youth. I recognize the vital role that participation in organized sports can play in the upbringing of Canadian children. I had many years of experience in coaching both as a professional coach in the United States and as a volunteer coach in Canada. I have seen firsthand over and over again the very positive contribution of participation in sport by our youth.

There can be little doubt in anybody's mind that this is a good idea. To promote sport is an excellent means of preventing crime by our young people. It is an excellent way to provide opportunities for those who have the talent to excel in their abilities. One thing in the last member's message I kept hearing over and over again was high quality this, high quality that, high quality here and high quality there.

I always have felt that one major thing in any sporting department or purpose was to provide the opportunity for persons such as those in grade 1 and grade 6 who had the desire to participate but because of where they lived or commitments required by their parents for the high cost of equipping them to play hockey or to buy a baseball glove it would be totally unaffordable. Over and over again I have seen in my years of experience that these kinds of things are not available to everybody as they ought to be.

I get concerned about seeing $800 million put into a program where $100 million of it will be for infrastructure without any qualifications of what that really means.

What we need is the ability for our young people to have the opportunity to participate and be part of a program that teaches life skills other than the high quality of skill of a particular sport. The program needs to teach good citizenship and good health. It needs to teach a number of things that will have long term benefits for them particularly when they get to an age where they can participate in activities in their communities as an adult.

I was always a firm believer that team competitive sports such as hockey, football, basketball and so on were very good. However, along with them we need support for sport that will provide skills to individuals so that when they become adults and part of a family they can participate in other sports that are not competitive.

Having been in the United States and having coached professionally, there are some real advantages to having a program in place that will provide the avenue to work with young people and provide some high quality coaches that will train and teach them the best way to deal with particular programs.

Unfortunately when I was in the United States the philosophy of playing to win and having fun turned out to be winning is not everything; it is the only thing. When that kind of attitude begins to exist problems start to develop.

I have seen young people in amateur sports who had participated in a competition and won a division or zone competition. After their team had participated and worked together to win a particular title and had fun doing it, they advanced to the next level of competition.

It is at that point throughout the country where there seems to be an attitude that it has to be really competitive. They pick all-stars from other teams within the division instead of using the same dozen or twenty young people who managed to make this accomplishment. There is an attitude that exists in Canada that we need the all-stars from the other teams. Consequently the young people who helped the team to get to where it was were heartbroken and were staying at home while the better players went on to higher competition.

Those are the things that are disheartening, the very basic type of ideas. Unfortunately the report fails to get to the heart of the matter of what affects young people. What do we expect of our athletes and sport people when they are in schools? I cannot help but think about that terrible tragedy in Littleton, Colorado, where two people stated that the targets for their activities would be jocks, athletes.

I remember some very stringent rules in some of the schools I worked in. Not only did we do our best to encourage others to participate in whatever sport we were in, but for those people who were not inclined or did not have the desire to go into sport, the athletes in turn would show great respect for their desire to go into music, drama or whatever it was. They had a mutual respect for one another.

Because of an attitude that began down in the United States that the captain of the football team, a macho sort of athlete, is the king-pin of the school, they tend to tread on the other people who have other things in their hearts.

We do not address those things in our sporting areas. One of the problems is when we start throwing money without good ideas into a project. Money is not the answer to sports. Availability is, making it possible for all to participate. That can be handled best at the local level in our communities and not by a magic bureaucratic department creation, not by a government that will look after everybody's best interest.

We spent a lot of our time during my years in amateur and volunteer coaching in Canada selling chocolate bars, selling light bulbs and selling magazines. We did everything we could to raise funds to buy a few bats or a dozen baseballs or to buy T-shirts or caps so the young people would look like a uniformed group.

We are missing the boat when we forget about the spirit of sport at that age of young people and start concentrating on pouring money in so everyone can excel at great lengths. That acceleration will happen in spite of what goes on. We always felt that if we looked after everybody the great ones would come out of the crop, but not because of tons of money being spent to see it happen and a concentration at that level.

I encourage the committee to continue to look at this report. I would like it to involve even more people who could come up with some ideas to enhance sport and to provide an opportunity for young people. Sport is a very important part of our lives for the development of citizenship, good health and a sense of belonging. Let us not ruin it by creating big bureaucracies which are no solution.

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5:35 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to what the member had to say. He is right. We should never be in a situation where high performance sport is the only objective of the system, the only objective of our young people. I think of sport as having to do with far more than simply training the body. It has to do with training the mind and many of the points made by the member.

I do not know if the member has looked at that part of the government's sports program which deals with the Canada Games. I use the Canada Games as simply one example. The federal government commits $60 million to sports. We are missing a great deal if we forget the volunteer activity which the member describes and the activity and roles of the provinces and the schools. This is not the be all and end all of sports in Canada.

A part of the budget goes toward supporting the Canada Games. My understanding is that 45,000 young people between the ages of 18 and 22 or 23 have participated in the Canada Games in the last few decades. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of young people have tried out for the Canada Games.

I have attended two or three of them and they are far more than sports events. They are festivals at which students from all over the country, young athletes of different standards, come together and participate. For some of these athletes it is the peak of their sporting career and often the peak of their career as young Canadians.

The Canada Games which come out of federal funding is part of a pyramid. I was chair of the Ontario Summer Games which is for younger athletes. We had in our community 2,000 to 3,000 young people, younger than those in the Canada Games. Tens of thousands tried out for the Ontario Summer Games. I am sure the same applies in Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec and other provinces across the country. Those games were funded in part by the provincial governments and lead toward the Canada Games, the national festival of sports.

Has the member been to any Canada Games? Is he familiar with the sort of festival of sport it is for young people, not simply for high performance athletes?

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5:35 p.m.


Myron Thompson Reform Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I understand what the member is stating.

Back in 1983 in my area I had the pleasure of serving on the committee which was putting on the Alberta provincial summer games. Two years later we had the Alberta provincial winter games. A tremendous amount of work and effort went into providing opportunity for young people. There were great celebrations. It was phenomenal.

All the trials and competitions prior to qualifying to come to the provincial festival were every bit as big in the minds and hearts of the young people who were trying at the lower level. The province and the communities made certain that young people were shown some appreciation for their efforts, whatever they could be.

To go from a provincial level to a national level can only be a dream for a lot of young people. I reiterate the need for maximum participation before getting to those levels, or the more people involved the better the whole system will be. I do not want to see tons of money targeted for one area without making absolutely certain that we cover as much as possible.

I am certainly proud of the Canadian amateur games. I cheer for our athletes as loudly as anybody. It gives me a good feeling when one of them achieves. If we are to talk about amateur sport, let us not narrow the scope. Let us keep it broad and available to Canadian children everywhere.

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5:40 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Wild Rose for letting me share his time with him. I also congratulate the member for Longueuil for her fine intervention today.

This is a very important motion. As an Olympicophile and one who had a long time dream of participating in some form but had no chance whatsoever of doing so, it is a great pleasure to speak to the motion.

From Donavoan Bailey to Norris Bowden, Greg Joy, Sue Holloway, Debbie Van Kiekebelt, Kathleen Heddle and so many more, the Canadian Olympic amateur athletes and indeed professional and other athletes who have worn the Canadian flag so proudly on their shoulders have done us proud for many decades. They have embodied the finest elements of being Canadian and in many instances have shown us what it is like to be the best of being human.

The motion goes to the heart of something that is very important and very dear to Canadians: sport, particularly amateur sport. We have seen much excellence and heroism among our Olympic athletes. We have also seen them as superb role models for not only the young but also the old. I would argue that the cherished dream of Baron Pierre de Coubertin lives on in the hearts of many athletes in the country today.

Many Canadian athletes, particularly those who have competed in the Olympics, have succeeded not as a direct result of what we have managed to do for them in an organizational capacity but what they have managed to do for themselves. Many amateur athletes have lived lives of poverty, indeed below the welfare level, in order to compete in a sport that they love and do Canada proud.

The root of this debate is how we can improve the situation for our amateur athletes. I would argue there are things we can do. We can make sure that money gets directly to the athletes. The money should not be invested in a bloated bureaucracy.

We invest a sizeable amount of money. It is understandably limited because there are so many priorities. More of the money rather than going into bureaucracy must be focused directly on the athletes who need it most, on the hard edge of sport in Canada; not on the organizational capacity but into the pockets of the athletes to enable them to eat, travel and survive.

Therefore I would argue that we need to downsize the bureaucracy in many amateur athletic sports and focus the funding on successful sports. We currently fund over 70 sports in the country, which I would argue is too many. We have to make choices. We need to decide which sports are more important for Canada's identity and fund those selectively.

This is not to say that we should ignore the other ones, but there are ways of getting funding for them. For example, when a particular sport becomes very successful, then a percentage of those funds can be poured into general revenues for sports that do not make much money. Successful sports, such as track and field, rowing and sports that generate funds, can be used to pour into sports that are less attractive from a funding perspective.

We can also try to develop some innovative private-public partnerships. We have talked about tax incentives for investment from the private sector. We should consider using an adopt an athlete or adopt a sport for the private sector. The quid pro quo is that the particular advertising group can get money from advertising at the specific sports venues and generate something for them in that way. Those are the things that can be done.

I also want to draw to the attention of the House something the Canadian Olympic Association has been doing to address a very important problem and one that is largely going undiagnosed and unrecognized in our society; that is the inactivity among our youth.

If we are going to have an important and profound impact on the health of Canadians, in particular among the youth, we need to make sure that the youth get into healthy practices. One of the healthiest things they can do is engage in a sport. Sports are good for our health. The earlier we begin engaging in regular physical activity, the easier it will be to keep up with that physical activity when we are older.

In other words, starting early will give youths good habits that will enable them to carry on with healthy sports habits later in life. This will give us a health dividend. We know that regular activity and exercise is healthy for us. It lowers the risk of cardiovascular problems, other health problems and increases longevity.

The Canadian Olympic Association has tried to push forward an innovative program of using Canadian Olympic athletes as ambassadors for sport, using them as role models to push sport among youth, not necessarily at a high level but at the grassroots.

If the federal government chooses to take a leadership role with the provinces and is willing to approach the ministries of education to work with the Canadian Olympic Association, I think that would be a fantastic partnership. We would be able to use these Canadian heroes, who have competed nationally and internationally for us, as ambassadors for sport and to really have an aggressive campaign to convince our youth that competing in sports early on is very important.

We not only must convince the youth, but we must convince their parents. I have had many parents come into offices that I have worked in as a physician asking that their child be excused from physical education. It is very unfortunate that in many of those cases the request was not for good medical grounds, but because the child did not want to participate for various reasons. Sport can be made an integral part of people's lives and it is important that it be started early.

I also want to address the aspect of professional sports. Much has been said recently about whether we should or should not fund professional sports to keep them in the country. In a word, the answer, in my view, is absolutely not. How can we justify giving money to professional sports where people are making millions of dollars a year, when we have people on the street who might be making $17,000 or $20,000 a year? How can we justify taking their hard earned tax dollars to pay for professional sporting groups to stay in the country? We cannot and we should not.

The problem of professional sports in the country and why they are leaving is an indicator of a much larger problem that is affecting Canadians from coast to coast. It is taxes. Taxes are driving Canadians, Canadian companies and the best of what we have south of the border because the tax structure is so skewed. A family of two makes at least 44% more in the United States than they do here.

Similarly, the professional teams in the country are unable to compete with those teams south of the border because their taxes are high. The province of Ontario has an 10% entertainment tax on tickets for these sports. In the case of the Corel Centre in Ottawa, its property taxes have gone from $1.1 million to a proposed $7 million in less than seven years. That is ridiculous. We also have the only publicly funded and publicly owned highway.

What we need to do is lower taxes not just for professional sports but for Canadians from coast to coast. I am glad the problem was brought up by the professional sporting groups. It shows that not only are they labouring under high tax rates but so is the rest of Canada. They are also having a problem because the Canadian dollar is so low.

The reason the Canadian dollar is so low is because the government has put its tail between its legs and lowered the Canadian dollar to increase productivity rather than trying to deal with the elements of productivity such as taxes, education and rules and regulations, amongst others. It does not address that. It just lowers the value of the Canadian dollar to make our exports more competitive. In the process, however, it damages and hurts many Canadian companies that have to deal in U.S. dollars.

When it comes to sports, Canadian athletes show some of the finest examples of what it is to be Canadian. In the words of Lord Alfred Tennyson, in his poem Ulysses , he said:

To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.

This is the motto of many Canadian athletes. I think sports are something that Canadians are all proud to participate in, to honour and to uphold.

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5:50 p.m.


John Solomon NDP Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, my friend in the Reform Party, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, made some good points with respect to amateur sports. He also indicated that professional sports franchises should not receive any more tax breaks, but that he supports tax breaks for everybody.

There are a couple of points I want to make. The municipal governments in the country, for example, Ottawa, benefits directly as a community from the Ottawa Senators through jobs, other taxes, revenues and fees. It also charges the Ottawa Senators about $4.2 million in property taxes, which is now burdening the Ottawa Senators and is pressuring them to move out of the country.

With respect to these municipal property taxes, which are extremely high, does the member think that all of Canada, including Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca constituents and those in Saskatchewan and Manitoba that have no pro hockey teams, should be asked to subsidize the municipality of Ottawa which is a charging these pro teams exorbitant taxes and is driving them out of the country?

Does he support the current tax situation for professional hockey teams? Let us look at a company that buys a big box in an arena for about $120,000. The taxpayers now support that box purchased by a business to the tune of $27,000 to $30,000 on the $120,000 through lost tax expenditures. Does he support this continued multimillion dollar support of pro franchises?

Does he agree with his Reform colleague, the member for Kootenay—Columbia, who said this morning that he supports the tax breaks given to the wealthy hockey players? There are 650 NHL hockey players, averaging $1.8 million a year in salaries, who have just been given a Liberal tax break in this budget of about $14,000 each on average. Does he agree with that?

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5:50 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend, the whip of the NDP. He has a load of questions and I will do my best to answer as many of them as possible.

In response to his last question, which was the most obvious, I most definitely do not agree. I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in supporting tax breaks for people who are making millions of dollars. However, what we do support are across the board tax breaks for everybody. That is the issue here. I am glad my colleague brought up this issue. The problem which professional sporting groups are faced with, not only here in Ontario but across the country, is the fact that taxes are too high.

The Ottawa Senators and the Corel Centre pay taxes which exceed the revenues of their ticket sales. They have a 10% selective entertainment tax. Why is the provincial government doing that? It is only hurting the ability of these teams to stay in the country.

We have a fetish of engaging in taxes, whether we are talking about municipal, provincial or federal. The federal government has been offloading its tax burden to lower levels of government.

All we ask is that the federal government lower taxes across the country. We have seen the success of this being done in other parts of the world. We could look at Britain, we could look at northern Europe and we could look at the experience in Alberta, where the taxes are much lower and the economy is booming. That is what we need to do federally.

I thank my colleague for pursuing this initiative because it will be productive. Maybe some day the government will listen to us.

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5:55 p.m.

Ottawa—Vanier Ontario


Mauril Bélanger LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, it is not quite a question, but a comment.

I would not want to encourage local discord between the city of Ottawa and the city of Kanata. I say to my colleague from Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre that it is the city of Kanata which receives the property tax. That is why in the recent outburst of enthusiasm the mayor of the city of Ottawa made sure that people were corrected. He was actually chastising them for distancing themselves from the Kanata Senators. Let us make sure we have the facts straight on the issue.

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5:55 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to my hon. friend from the government pursuing with his caucus opportunities to lower taxes, not only for professional sports but, more important, for Canadians from coast to coast.

I look forward to him working with our side, the whole opposition, to make that a reality.

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5:55 p.m.

Ottawa—Vanier Ontario


Mauril Bélanger LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully throughout the day to the comments from all sides. At some points, it was very interesting and relevant, and at others, I must unfortunately admit that it was less so. This is the way things work.

I would take this opportunity to correct certain comments and errors of fact made during the debate.

I am happy to be able to speak to this motion on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of Canadian Heritage. I am delighted to reaffirm, as this motion indicates, that amateur sport is at the heart of the concerns of the Government of Canada. The government made a commitment to record its concerns and those of its amateur athletes on its list of priorities and it fully intends to honour this commitment.

I am happy to be able to say, contrary to what has been repeated so far, that the government will act on more than 75% of the recommendations of the parliamentary subcommittee on sport in Canada. It is most encouraging to see committee work being given such enthusiastic support by the government.

I never tire of discussing the reasons Canadians from coast to coast are proud of their country. Amateur sport is one of the reasons we are proud to be Canadians. We feel nothing but pride when we think of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Nagano, of the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, of the Arctic Winter Games in Yellowknife and of the Pan-American Games to be held very soon in Winnipeg.

There is also the young 13 year old, Alexandre Despatie, who won the gold medal in diving in Kuala Lumpur last year. He is the youngest gold medal winner at the Commonwealth Games.

Regardless of our preferences—skiing, skating, sailing or whatnot—in any sport we can name, there are Canadian champions.

Canada has always gathered a team of exceptional athletes, regardless of the size of the competition or the place it is held.

These committed and dedicated athletes have everything they need to compete against the best athletes in the world. They proudly walk in the stadium and wave our flag high, as do athletes from all over the world incidentally, before the Bloc accuses our athletes of excessive national pride as it has, unfortunately, been doing all day by accusing everybody of trying to politicize the debate. How absurd.

When these athletes enter the stadium, we are walking with them, step by step, the Government of Canada included.

I know we should not always be criticizing, but I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the member for Lac-Saint-Jean, who did resist the temptation to politicize the debate. In my view, he has managed to pull away from the prattle offered to him. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for others.

Let us get back to the subject. They can also take part in exciting and unique competitions, like the Olympics or the Paralympics, the Pan-Am Games or the Francophonie Games that will be held here in the national capital region in 2001.

Every time we see our athletes compete we feel a sense of pride. In Canada we have very talented athletes who work hard to succeed. They have often proved it.

However, talent cannot bloom and flourish in a vacuum. It has to be developed, fed, supervised and encouraged until it reaches the highest level of perfection possible. This is how champions are born, and champions reflect well on Canada. They are a source of motivation for all Canadians. They need our support.

Sport Canada makes available to athletes a number of tools to fully develop their talent and skills, including direct financial assistance through the athletes assistance program in the form of benefits and living and training allowances; support to 38 national sports organizations to set up a high performance program; support to 11 multi-sport/multi-service organizations such as the Coaching Association of Canada, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activities; support to the hosting of high performance games, selected international sports events, and world championships held in Canada.

The Canada Games are a key element of the government's direct assistance to athletes. Since their inception in Quebec in 1967 these games have been one of the cornerstones of the Canadian amateur sports system.

Recognizing the importance of this great sports event in Canada we will continue to support it financially and politically.

The Government of Canada offers another kind of support to Canadian athletes by providing them with further assistance in investing in development, competition and training.

We have set up a national network of sports centres across Canada. These allow our high-performance athletes to aim for and reach excellence in an ethical and honest way, in a harassment free environment.

We now find national sport centres from coast to coast, as I said earlier, more specifically in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and in the Atlantic region.

Canada is also making its mark on the international sport level. I am pleased to point out that Canada will host the next world conference on women and sport in 2002. This conference will be an opportunity to discuss one of our most important priorities for the advancement of sport in Canada.

Consistent with the commitment made by the Prime Minister in the red book, the Government of Canada has increased funding for high level sport by $50 million over the next five years. In this regard, I think we should rectify the statements made by the hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm. He said the government reduced by about $20 to $30 million, I believe, its contribution to amateur sport, starting in 1993.

What we must not forget to say, if we want to inform people properly, is that in that year the budget provided for an expenditure of $26 million in connection with the Commonwealth Games in Victoria. This is not a recurring expenditure.

It is true there was a reduction in the annual operating budget and in funding for sport, as there was in most government agencies and departments. These members should present real numbers to people instead of trying to invent, as they did earlier today. The reduction in question was in the order of $7 million, and not around $30 million as they seemed to suggest earlier.

All these measures taken by the Canadian government result from discussions with the sport community in this country and from a national roundtable with athletes, coaches and national sport organizations. The result of these measures is the following.

Canada now provides financial assistance for living expenses and training to an additional 300 high level athletes so they can train to compete at the international level. This number includes 100 handicapped athletes and brings the total number of subsidized athletes to more than 1,200.

We also provide funding for 100 full time high level coaching positions and have improved opportunities for coaches to attend professional development programs. Moreover, those funds allow high level athletes to have better access to quality training and to compete in an increased number of international sporting events.

I want to mention the fact that this investment in our athletes and coaches also includes important measures in support of women, native and handicapped athletes.

As sport is every Canadian's business, we also encourage the private sector to do its part so that amateur sport can flourish in Canada.

As a matter of fact, at the national conference on sport and the business sector held last December, co-chaired by the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the participants came to the same conclusion as the Sub-Committee on the Study of Sport in Canada: it is essential to strengthen the relationship between sport and the business sector.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the chairman of the subcommittee, the member for Broadview—Greenwood, as well as all other members of the subcommittee for their thorough study of this issue, which helped to identify various measures that can be taken to support Canadian athletes. The subcommittee encouraged Canadians to focus more on the impact of sport on our economy, our culture, our national identity, our health, and rightly so. It also highlighted the need for the Canadian government to support amateur sport.

In its report the subcommittee insisted on the benefits of sport to our health and to young people at risk, as well as on the crucial role that sport must play in the development of native communities in Canada. I am proud to say once again that the government will follow up on 53 of the 69 recommendations contained in the subcommittee report, or 75%.

Some of these recommendations can already be implemented. For example, the authors of the report expressed concern about the fact that women, handicapped and native athletes are marginalized. This is the kind of concern that influenced the development of the sport funding and accountability framework in 1995. We are presently looking at ways to strengthen the accountability system so as to promote increased participation by Canadian athletes from underrepresented groups.

At the latest meeting of the national centres co-ordinating committee there were discussions about minimum requirements with regard to women, handicapped athletes, athletes who do not have access to the centres, as well as official languages. These requirements will be included in the accountability agreements with the centres.

On the issue of official languages, since the question was raised a few times, I would like to mention two very important points. In 1997 Sport Canada established, as a prerequisite for any contribution to national sport organizations, an accountability contract to be phased in between 1998 and 2001 which states the official languages requirements for national sport organizations. It requires, for example, an active offer of services in the preferred language of the applicant, including telephone services, the publication in both languages of all official and technical documents, policies and procedures, such as selection and appeal procedures, and the provision of bilingual services at all national and international events.

On that same point, I would also like to mention the Canada Games agreement which includes a complete section on official languages, covering all obligations of the host society in the area of official languages before, during and after the games.

It mentions all the policy obligations and more. The 1997 Canada Games, held in Brandon, were recognized by the Commissioner of Official Languages for the excellent services provided in both official languages during the games. I thought is was important to mention this.

We must recognize that there are difficulties and problems, but there is also a will to correct them, to become better.

Thanks to Sport Canada, we will take a number of steps in response to the recommendations in the report. For example, we will continue to fund the Aboriginal Sport Circle as we have done since 1995.

We will also continue to work with our provincial and territorial counterparts to put in place a funding environment for the North American Indigenous Games. We will try to establish governmental partnerships in this regard.

Sport Canada will examine the issue and make recommendations on the basis of the legislation governing the Canadian government's commitment to sports.

We will again look at the Fitness and Amateur Sport Act to determine its appropriateness for the next century.

I would like to add that the government's responsibility to favour, promote and further sport in Canada is provided by the legislation constituting the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Very soon we will start planning a millennium conference on sport to be held during the first quarter of 2001.

Such an important symposium will necessitate the creation of partnerships with provincial and territorial governments, amateur sport organizations, athletes, coaches, the media and, naturally, the Canadian government.

Hopefully participants will be able to determine the evolution of sport in the next century, the influence it can have on society and the changes it can bring about.

These are examples of measures the government intends to take to promote amateur sport and implement the report of the subcommittee on sport.

However, even before tabling the report we clearly indicated that sport was at the top of our priority list.

This government has clearly shown, when it comes to supporting athletes and trainers, that it does the best where it is important to act. I remind my colleagues of the $10 million a year increase made to the sport budget for the next five years. As soon as we succeeded in eliminating the deficit that was one of the first envelopes that was increased.

Members will be happy to learn also that at the same time we promised to increase the Canada Council's budget, and that was done.

Consequently, it is not true that we have ignored most of the recommendations in the subcommittee report, as certain members across the way are saying, because we have acted on 75% of them.

The government's decision to act on three-quarters of the subcommittee's recommendations is consistent with the efforts it has made until now to ensure that amateur sport plays an important part in Canada.

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6:10 p.m.


Caroline St-Hilaire Bloc Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have many questions for the parliamentary secretary, who is praising the minister's response and is proudly saying that the government will support 53 of the 69 recommendations.

I would like him to remind us how much the recommendations the minister agreed to implement will cost compared to the recommendation on professional sport. I would like him to tell us about it.

I would also like him to tell us what he knows about sport federations and associations. There are obvious and dangerous problems for athletes; discrimination and language problems, as well as coaching problems. Sport Canada has no training or incentive program to encourage coaches to speak French so that our athletes could at least understand what their coaches were saying.

What does the government intend to do in that regard? As far as the minister is concerned, in any case, it will be nothing at all. I would like to hear what the parliamentary secretary has to say about that. He says that all is fine and dandy in amateur sports and that the government believes in it, so much so that 22 sport federations no longer receive subsidies from the government. How can he explain that?

For my last question, it seems that the federal government is considering giving the Montreal Expos a piece of land in downtown Montreal for the sum of $1. How can the parliamentary secretary justify this? Would he consider giving a similar piece of land or the same kind of help to amateur sport that would indeed be interested in such a large piece of land for such a modest sum? Is this conceivable for the parliamentary secretary?

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June 7th, 1999 / 6:15 p.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to come back to one of the comments I made earlier following the speech of another member. I was mentioning that most of his speech dealt with professional sport, while the Bloc's resolution deals with the importance of placing the interests of amateur sport before the interests of professional sport.

I might point out to the member for Longueuil that this is precisely what I have done in my presentation. I have placed the interests of amateur sport well before those of professional sport, because Sports Canada looks after amateur sport.

I wish to remind the member of what I said earlier about funding. The whole envelope of Sports Canada is used for amateur sport. I hope that the member will acknowledge that. Sports Canada does not support professional sport and I do hope the member recognizes that.

As for the coaching program, I found the suggestion made by the member for Longueuil interesting. She suggests we include an official language aspect in training programs or training support programs for coaches. I will remember that suggestion. It will be not only my duty but also my pleasure to pass it on to the minister and other people involved in Sports Canada and, if need be, improve the training program. We remain open to such suggestions, as we have been in the past.

I will leave the professional sport issue to others, in this case the Minister of Industry, since his department is responsible for professional sport.

I must underline, as others have done today, that no decision has really been taken on the issue of support for professional sport. I must admit that the debate will certainly be vigorous, depending on what is recommended, because public opinion is quite divided on the issue. Up to now everyone has an opinion, even those voters who have called me. People may not all have the same opinion, but everyone has one. So the debate promises to be interesting and I would be remiss if I did not leave it to those who should be dealing with it.

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6:15 p.m.


John Solomon NDP Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier talk about amateur sport. He spoke about amateur sport throughout most of his dissertation.

The only conclusion one can draw from this is that here we have another Liberal example of words rather than action. We hear nothing but words from the government opposite when it comes to supporting a number of very key sectors in the economy.

When it comes to the farmers of Saskatchewan who are undergoing the worst agricultural period economically since the Depression, the government talks about helping them, but it does not help them financially. It is all words and no action.

We hear around the country about all the problems with health care. When $6 billion is cut back every year for five years, some $30 billion, and most of that from health care in terms of its responsibility, that is an action I think Canadians can relate to very well. It has taken a very bad action.

Today in the House we are talking about amateur sport and the lack of support by the government, the lack of action in response to the Mills report on amateur sport in Canada.

The member for Ottawa—Vanier referred to the Kanata Senators. All of a sudden they are the Kanata Senators when it is a tax issue. The Ottawa region charges the Ottawa Senators $4.2 million in property taxes and Montreal charges the Montreal Canadiens $11.2 million a year in property taxes. The $11.2 million is more than what all of the 21 U.S. based hockey teams pay collectively in property taxes. Even with the exchange rate it is more. We have a very serious municipal tax problem.

The member for Ottawa—Vanier has disowned the Ottawa Senators and has called them the Kanata Senators. Can he elaborate on the support the taxpayers of this country and the Liberal government are giving professional sports franchises now? Would he tell us how much it has cost us to give each of the 650 pro hockey players in this country a $14,000 to $15,000 a year tax cut in this year's budget? How much is that costing taxpayers?

How much is it costing taxpayers to subsidize the purchase of seasons tickets for all these pro sports franchises? For example, a sports box in the arena for the Ottawa Senators may cost $100,000 to $120,000. We are providing for the business that buys a box a tax subsidy of between $23,000 and $30,000 a year depending on the price of the box. In addition to the seasons tickets bought by businesses, how much are we subsidizing wealthy franchise owners, wealthy hockey players and players of other sports such as basketball players through the actions of the Liberal government?

Does he support the rollback of these exorbitant property taxes by the municipalities which benefit directly? Ottawa receives the benefits of tourism, jobs and all the economic activity that happens as a result of the Ottawa Senators being here. I like the Ottawa Senators. It is one of my favourite teams and I think it should do very well, but should all the taxpayers in this country continue to subsidize the municipalities that benefit from the property tax revenues?

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6:20 p.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will try in the short time left to respond to some of the hon. member's comments.

I would be curious to know if the member voted for or against budgets where the deductibility of some of the expenses he referred to, be they boxes or tickets and so forth, was reduced by this government. I am saddened to hear him say that he voted against that. If he were consistent then he would have supported these measures in the budgets we have introduced. On that basis alone, his question and his reaction to that are rather inconsistent.

On the matter of the Kanata Senators, I did mention that it was a quote from the mayor of Ottawa over which I am presumably getting into deep doo-doo right now. In defence of the mayor of Ottawa who said that, it was in jest in front of a crowd of about 1,000 people and was presented that way. Incidentally I thought it was a rather good way of instituting a debate.

Indeed, some comments have been made as to how far we go down that road and we are not going to go alone. The local municipalities, the players, the teams and so forth would have to be part of the package, if ever there were a package, but that is neither nor there. I wanted to make sure my friend, the mayor of the city of Ottawa would still be speaking with me.

On the matter of amateur sports, I have to remark on recent years. I am not from western Canada but the member is. I hope he appreciates the money the taxpayers of the country put into the Commonwealth Games in Victoria and the Olympic Games in Calgary and the money they are putting into the Pan Am Games in Manitoba coming up this summer and the myriad other events, international competitions and so forth. That is part and parcel of the contribution of Sports Canada to amateur athletes.

Yes, we do concrete things. I have highlighted three of them in the member's part of the country and we are happy that they were all successful. We wish the best of luck to the Pan Am Games in Manitoba.