Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to take part in today's debate on amendments from the other place to Bill C-12.
First, given what is at stake, I hope that the Secretary of State for Amateur Sports, who has said that he is concerned with the future of our athletes, is listening to everything being said here in the House.
The merits of this bill are not in question. After holding numerous consultations, the federal government has finally responded to the expectations of the sports community by introducing a modern, updated bill, which makes sports and physical a central feature of our daily lives and our health.
Inspired by Canada's sports policy, which aims, in particular, to increase participation, support excellence and develop potential, this bill will become the strategic framework for federal government policies on sports and physical activities.
Despite this expression of willingness to serve the interests of the population and the sports community, I would like to mention a few extremely important points.
First, there is the thorny issue of the official languages. This bill contains certain provisions on official languages. But we will be responsible for ensuring that the principles it contains are respected and turned into concrete action.
The flaws as far as official languages are concerned are more of a concern to me and most certainly are nothing new. In June 1999, I filed a complaint with the Commissioner of Official Languages, asking for an investigation of the situation of francophone athletes in elite amateur sport in Canada. This was a follow-up to the hearings of the sub-committee on sport and the discrimination I had witnessed.
The commissioner's report indicated that our complaint was justified and clearly demonstrated that francophone athletes were markedly disadvantaged in the present sport system in Canada.
In the year 2000, the commissioner tabled a report containing 16 recommendations to be implemented by April 1, 2001. We are not far from April 1, 2003, yet the report's recommendations have barely been addressed. This is a major cause for concern and is one of the reasons that the Bloc Quebecois has strongly urged that there to be some clear indication in Bill C-12 of respect for official languages.
Energetic measures are needed immediately so that francophone athletes in Canada do not have to leave their language behind in the dressing room if they want to get on to the podium.
This is why I am so pleased with the amendments made in the other place. They are, in fact, a reflection of the commissioner's recommendations.
The first amendment addresses the principle of linguistic duality. According to the commissioner, the principle of linguistic duality, a fundamental characteristic of Canadian society, needs to be part of the preamble to the bill, on an equal footing with the other important advantages of physical activity and sport.
The other amendment, moreover, refers to a crucial clause in the bill, since it relates to the financial assistance the minister can provide through grants and contributions. These are the sources of funding for the sport organizations which were the object of my complaint. They have demonstrated—and in a number of cases still do—some serious shortcomings as far as respect for official languages is concerned.
With this addition, the minister will have to exercise his powers in accordance with parts IV and VII of the Official Languages Act which, among other things, requires the government to enhance the vitality of francophone and anglophone minorities.
These two are important prerequisites for encouraging and imposing respect of both official languages.
Another aspect to which I wish to draw your attention is the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre. We have already voiced some concerns about certain aspects of the centre. I will not revisit them here, except for one.
One of the key elements of the bill is without a doubt the creation of the sport dispute resolution centre. Although we are convinced of the importance of this centre for athletes, namely with regard to timeframes for settling disputes and the exorbitant costs of legal proceedings, we have certain reservations about the minister's power to make appointments to the board of directors.
Like the sporting community, we think that creating a board of directors is an excellent idea. However, this board must reflect the diversity and backgrounds of all the athletes, and must be equitable, and respectful of linguistic duality.
This board of directors, which will be required to decide on the centre's policy directions, will have to be impartial and transparent, two fundamental values for ensuring confidence in the centre's integrity and especially its independence.
The Secretary of State for Amateur Sport told the sports community of his intention to hold an extensive consultation before appointing a board of directors. I intend to follow this consultation very closely.
Furthermore, still in reference to this centre, two amendments were proposed by the upper chamber requiring the minister to table a copy of the business plan and the annual report in each House.
I would like to reassure the sports community that these amendments are not meant to take away from the centre's independence. It is imperative to preserve the centre's independence. This measure is not aimed at interfering in the management of the centre, but at strengthening Parliament's control over the management of public funds. The centre's accountability to Parliament is not synonymous with interference by parliamentarians. The purpose of the amendments is to make the centre accountable to Parliament.
Finally, one last issue that is of particular concern to me is the funds that are necessary to achieve the bill's objectives. Even though we support this legislation, I want to remind the secretary of state about something that is very to truly achieving the stated objectives. It is all fine and well to pass an act promoting physical activity and excellence, but if, in the end, we do not provide the sport community with adequate funding, this will be disappointing for athletes.
In this regard, the federal government has just missed a great opportunity to demonstrate its willingness to provide the sport community with the necessary tools. We were also very disappointed with the Secretary of State for Amateur Sport, as we were with the budget, because he was not at all upset by the measly amount of money earmarked for athletes and the sport community. The base budget of $75 million was not even increased, despite the fact that Athletes CAN and members of the sport community recommended that the government double Sport Canada's budget, to increase it to $150 million.
But nothing was doubled, not even a loonie. Yet, during an awareness campaign held last fall, these athletes took the trouble to come here to meet the parliamentarians of this House. Moreover, in January, during a brief discussion with top level athletes, the Prime Minister recognized the importance of sport and physical activity.
The Prime Minister could at least have asked the Minister of Finance to take action, so that some money, some hard cash, would follow. On the contrary, these athletes only got a pittance, a measly $10 million over a two year period for high performance athletes. And had it not been for the outrage of the sport community and my own representations through the media, these funds would still be conditional on the 2010 Olympic Games being awarded to the City of Vancouver.
I still have some reservations and I still wonder about the government's real willingness to invest in the development of sport, which is the main objective of the bill. Therefore, I would like the government's action to reflect the objectives stated in the bill. In order for a policy to be effective, the means to carry it out must be provided.
The Bloc Quebecois is prepared to support this bill and the amendments, but in return we are asking the federal government to take a very serious look at the situation in the sports world and to make a financial commitment to athletes and coaches, so that they will have adequate facilities and an income worthy of an Olympian or of an athlete that makes us proud by standing on a podium.