Mr. Speaker, I consider it a great privilege to stand in the House today for the first time as a minister of the Crown, and I am here to express the Government of Canada's best wishes to the people of Vancouver and Whistler as they prepare to celebrate the six year countdown tomorrow toward the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
I would also like to use this opportunity to reaffirm the federal government's collaborative approach and commitment to sport and physical activity in Canada.
Before I go any further, I would like to take a moment to recognize the hard-working and professional public servants who make up the Department of Canadian Heritage. I am fortunate to have such a committed group of dedicated people who ensure that the government's role in sport and physical activity in Canada is focused, efficient and delivers results.
Only with their continued support will the government be able to deliver on its commitments to sport and physical activity.
I would like to draw to the attention of all my hon. colleagues that in only a few short years from now Canada will have a chance to showcase our commitment to excellence when we host the world at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler.
As the throne speech said, the 2010 Winter Games are “an opportunity to reinforce participation in sport by Canadians, at the highest level and in our communities”.
Sport is about teamwork and only through teamwork can we ensure that Canada wins gold in 2010.
The federal government is not alone in this. Canada's sports system is based on partnerships and its sustainability relies upon the full support of governments at all levels, sport organizations, the private sector, communities and volunteers.
Hosting the 2010 winter games will bring tangible benefit for Canada's developing and high performance athletes and to the country as a whole.
Our commitment to creating a lasting legacy will mean more than facilities. It will be the expertise that is developed among officials and volunteers. It will be the pride Canadians will feel in themselves, their communities and their country. There will be the stories we will share as a nation for generations to come.
The games will also give Canada an opportunity to showcase the world, not only our sport excellence, but also our innovation, culture and values. Values like inclusion.
The cultural component of these games, which will include a strong emphasis on the culture of our first nations, is already shaping up to be nothing short of spectacular.
Over the next six years, the 2010 winter games undoubtedly will heighten the interest of Canadians in sport and physical activity.
This brings me to my overriding goal as Minister of State for Sport. I want to get more Canadians participating in sport and physical activity. I want to ensure that the barriers to participation are reduced.
That means creating opportunities in sport for more new Canadians, young people, economically disadvantaged people, persons with a disability, aboriginal people and especially aboriginal children and youth.
As the father of two soccer playing daughters, I can see firsthand the effect of sport on young people. It improves their health and fitness, teaches them important life lessons, bolsters their confidence and self-esteem, and builds friendships and social skills.
As member of Parliament for Hamilton West I have seen how sport can improve the lives of people whose circumstances have put them on the margins of society.
I intend to work hard to remove the barriers to participation faced by specific groups, such as persons with disabilities, youth at risk, and young and teenage women.
I am operating from the deep belief that sport has the ability to transform lives. I know this belief is shared by many of my colleagues in this place. It is my duty to ensure it is understood by all Canadians.
This point was hit home to me just a couple of weeks ago when I was travelling in western Canada. While in Edmonton, I met with members of the aboriginal community there. As members may know, Canada hosted the 2002 North American Indigenous Games.
I was told that in the months leading up to and following that event, when many aboriginal young people were in training, there was a notable decline in the number of young aboriginals who take their lives. That is the power of sport.
This ties in directly with our government's priorities as announced recently in the Speech from the Throne, strengthening Canada's social foundations. Sport has a unique and important role to play.
All our communities come to life on their soccer and baseball fields, in their hockey rinks and on their tennis courts, and in their sailing and rowing clubs. People of all ages and all walks of life come together in activities that help them lead more healthier and productive lives.
The more Canadians involve themselves in sport, encourage the volunteerism encompassed in sport, ensure we have an ethically based sport system, and give our top athletes the support they need, we make Canada a leading sport nation. In doing all this, we reap the benefits of a healthier population, stronger communities and a broader base of participants for future excellence in sport.
We can do all these things by building on the commitments already laid out in the historic Canadian Sport Policy , the blueprint of the future of sport in Canada.
The Government of Canada invests $90 million a year toward initiatives both to get Canadians involved in sport and to support our high performance athletes. This investment is leveraged by our partnerships throughout the provinces and in communities.
Canadians understand the value of sport and physical activity in our society. The Government of Canada, along with our partners, will work hard to ensure that more Canadians, regardless of circumstance, can realize the benefits.
As we look ahead to Athens this summer and further down the road to Vancouver and Whistler in 2010, we should remember to cheer on our athletes who make us so proud as they serve as our ambassadors to the world. Their path to excellence has been made with great personal sacrifices in time and in money.
Finally, we need to acknowledge the importance of coaches to the success of Canadian athletes and how they enjoy their sport, and ensure that we have world class coaching to back up our world class athletes.
All of this work is going toward making Canada a leading sport nation. I am appealing to all of my colleagues in the House and to all of my fellow Canadians to help me spread the message to get active and by doing so build better communities through sport.