Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will split my time with the hon. member for Hillsborough.
I am very pleased to take part in this debate. I realize that it is the role of opposition parties to oppose the government's measures and policies, but I am really disappointed when motions such as the one before us today talk about saving Canada, because it implies that our country is in danger and that we have much greater problems than is actually the case. This type of motion is exaggerated and has more to do with the credibility of opposition parties than with the values that they seek to promote.
We believe, based on international surveys and studies, that Canada is among the top countries when it comes to living standards and conditions. We are truly proud of our country. It is sad to present motions suggesting that Canada is not what is should be.
This being said, I want to discuss the 11th point of the NDP plan. Throughout the day, my colleagues will deal more specifically with the other points.
In reference to point 11 on arts, culture and sports, we only have to go back to the announcement made on May 2, 2001 by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Canadian Heritage of a new program, tomorrow starts today, where the Government of Canada would be investing in arts and culture. It was the largest investment made in 50 years. Also, the government will be investing more than half a billion dollars over the next three years. That speaks to the dedication and the value that the government puts on arts and culture.
The NDP leader began her speech by talking about the Olympic Games. The games are over, but we saw that Canadians were very proud of their athletes. In larger as in smaller urban centres, people took to the streets to celebrate after the last hockey game, on Sunday. That is not the reaction of a country that feels a need to be saved. Rather, this was a reaction triggered by the pride felt by Canadians, who are very proud of their country and of their athletes.
We went through these Olympic games with the Canadian team winning 17 medals, the best Olympic results in the history of Canada. The victories in women's and men's hockey proved that Canada remains the leader in hockey and that is what Canadians were celebrating out in the streets.
These Olympic games demonstrated the power of sport in inspiring and uniting our country and our celebration of our country. We celebrated not only our athletes' results but also their strength of character, their poise and the grace and dignity they displayed regardless of the outcome of their competitions. Just like in the arts, extraordinary sport performances can stir our souls and make us aspire to what is best in us and others.
The hon. leader of the New Democratic Party made reference to how Canadians are perceived in other countries. I would like to inform her that I was in Salt Lake City throughout the whole Salé-Pelletier controversy and we were stopped by citizens from around the world who recognized the unique character of our Canadian athletes and complimented us as a nation for their conduct. It truly was inspiring and not at all along the lines described by the leader of the New Democratic Party when she says that Canadians are not perceived in that light.
It would be a tremendous opportunity for Canada to once again host the winter Olympic games. To that end the Government of Canada is fully supportive of the bid put forth by the Vancouver-Whistler bid committee to host the 2010 winter Olympic games. Should the committee be successful it would be assured of enthusiastic support to welcome the world and stage the best winter Olympic games ever. It is very important, too, that all Canadians get behind this bid. It needs to be recognized as Canada's bid, not just a bid from one region. I encourage everyone to get behind the bid and support the Vancouver-Whistler committee. It is the government's intention to work very co-operatively with the committee.
The Government of Canada is a proud partner in Canadian sport. We work closely with our colleagues in the sport community in the provinces, the territorial governments and the private sector to help create opportunities for Canadians to participate and excel in sport. Sports Canada's budget supports athletes and coaches as well as national sport organizations and national sport centres across the country. These organizations and centres organize and finance training and competitiveness programs for athletes and coaches.
The government has taken concrete action over the past few years to increase the overall funding allocation for sport. The Sports Canada program budget, excluding one time events such as major games, presently stands at $77 million compared to $48 million just four years ago, an increase of 38% over that time. This deals with the motion of the New Democratic Party which calls upon us to invest in arts, culture and sports. With the programs I outlined at the beginning of my speech and with the increase in the Sports Canada budget, I can say that we are addressing that already.
The direct financial support for high performance athletes is now at $16 million, compared to $8 million in 1998. The monthly stipend for athletes was almost doubled for most athletes in 1999. This has helped them to live modestly while representing Canada in international events.
The government also had a pilot project for these Olympic games called the podium 2000 program, which was a partnership of the Government of Canada, the Canadian Olympic Association, CODA in Calgary, which is the legacy program of the 1998 Olympics, and the private sector. To assist athletes who were very close to the podium, $1.2 million was invested. We will review the results of that program and hopefully will be in a position to continue a similar type of program in the future.
Canada will soon have a new sports policy which will be focused on both excellence and participation. There need not be any conflict between elite athletes and the participation part of sport, as one should support the other. That is the focus the government will be investing in so that participation sports will be there to act as feeder systems for the elite athletes and elite athletes will be there to provide inspiration to the participants. We will be looking for links with health and education and will work with our provincial partners in that as well.