Ministers want more sports investment

MARK KEAST -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:24 AM ET

Many of Canada's provincial and territorial ministers responsible for sport, physical activity and recreation gathered in Toronto yesterday for a full frontal barrage on what's seen by many as a critical sport infrastructure shortfall in this country.

But what would a gathering of provincial ministers be without a potshot or two at the feds? The federal Sport Minister, Michael Chong, wasn't in attendance yesterday, nor was any other federal minister, a grumbling point for some, most notably Ontario's Ministry of Health Promotion, Jim Watson, who led the proceedings.

"I'm very disappointed," Watson said. "This was a great opportunity for the federal government to sit down with virtually every provincial sport and recreation minister and begin a dialogue on how we can work together to provide facilities and opportunities for our fellow citizens. There's money at the federal level and we have to convince them to sit down and listen to our case."

Chong said yesterday's meeting was a provincial/ territorial affair, defending the fed's leadership overall in this area. In the 2006 budget, the government allocated $16.5 billion in overall infrastructure funding over the next four years. There has been $240 million invested in sport and recreation infrastructure since April 1, a children's fitness tax credit that kicks in Jan. 1, worth $160 million, $143 million pumped into sports funding and over $550 million put toward the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Provinces like Quebec have shown pro-action in indicating a need to involve sports infrastructure in addressing overall infrastructure needs. Ontario hasn't been as pro-active in this regard, he said. Chong pointed out Ontario's relative absence on the medal podium at the Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, unlike other provinces that have invested more in their sports system. "Clearly other provinces are taking more leadership. Quebec is a model."

Politicking aside, it's widely acknowledged Canadians are getting fatter, and that's taxing our national healthcare system to a serious degree. The Conference Board of Canada said that healthcare spending because of physical inactivity ranges from $2.1 to $5.3 billion annually, according to documents handed out yesterday. So the message was this: What's the use in promoting physical fitness if there aren't enough facilities nationwide, with many of the ones in existence in varying states of decrepitude?

The ministers, in pushing the need for a national infrastructure program, called for wiping out what they see as a $16-billion capital deficit by 2017. Ontario's capital deficit is estimated to be $5 billion. And that deficit only covers off renovating and improving the facilities that are in place .

"We need a partnership," said Larry Ketcheson, chief executive officer of Parks and Recreation Ontario. "(The federal government) missed the boat not being here. Maybe it isn't on their internal political radar yet."


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