With five days to go until the provincial election Oct. 10, the Liberals have taken a lead in outlining their Game Plan for sport.
It's easy to overlook sport as second string, with so many worthy issues clamoring for attention in the lead up to next week's election -- education, environment, taxes, safety, poverty -- not to mention that pesky referendum question that requires serious research to understand.
But sport should not be left on the sidelines as an election issue.
According to a 2002 report by Statistics Canada, over half of Canadian youth aged 12 to 19 are not active enough for optimal growth and development.
Improving health through sport and physical activity would reduce health care costs significantly. The Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute concluded that 14 to 17 million adult Canadians could prevent early death if they did at least small amounts of physical activity every day.
So which party is the best choice for the sport vote?
"The jury's still out on that respect," said Ian Bird, senior leader of the Sport Matters lobby group, who has been prodding the provincial political parties, publicly but gently, to articulate their Game Plans for sport.
So far only the ruling Liberals have responded, pledging to convert an existing annual investment of $10 million in athlete, coach, and Games assistance into permanent funding under the Quest for Gold lottery initiative.
The Quest for Gold reaches nearly 1,000 of Ontario's top athletes each year, supporting them as they represent Ontario and Canada at both national and international competitions. Top athletes receive up to $8,000 a year, and there also is money for coach education and salaries, along with a fitness tax credit and unspecified infrastructure.
"The fact that the premier took the occasion to have a specific day in which his announcement was focused on his Game Plan for sport was unprecedented," Bird said. "It shows sport is now on the radar."
But alas, not for everyone.
The NDP didn't return my calls on the topic.
And both the Progressive Conservatives and the Greens had little to offer beyond the sensible idea of opening up schools for after-hours use -- rather oddly, both parties offered almost the exact same line.
PC leader John Tory's office referred me to Page 16 of the PC Party Plan for Ontario's Future, which pledges to "open up more schools to the community for evening and weekend activities.
"Under John Tory's Open Schools program, we will work to resolve the union and liability issues that stop Ontario from making better use of these public resources," states the document. Tory also pledges to expand the aging Leaside Memorial Arena in his riding of Don Valley West.
Meanwhile, the deputy leader of the Ontario Green Party, Victoria Serda, said "the main [sport] thing that we have in our platform is to try to make sure that at a community level, schools are able to allow their facilities to be used by groups after hours.
"More than supporting elite athletes, we're trying to support community participation at a local level," Serda said. "One of our planks is to provide $45 million in additional funding per year to increase access to schools for community groups in times other than regular school hours," adding, "as a Green party it's more realistic to talk about things we would support or introduce as a bill."
The most meaningful sport comment so far in this campaign is from Premier Dalton McGuinty.
"Ontario Liberals understand the challenges athletes face as they make their dreams a reality," said McGuinty. "Ontario's top athletes inspire our youth to get involved and follow their dreams -- in sport and beyond."
Sounds good, but I haven't made up my mind yet -- unless the other parties really have nothing more to offer.
MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD
The Toronto Sports Council is convening a Summit Series consisting of four regional summits throughout October and a final city-wide summit early in 2008, to provide leadership for community sport, promote development of facilities, and increase participation opportunities for all residents.
Toronto community sport organizations will hear from keynote speakers on why community sport is important to the future of Toronto. Participants will discuss emerging challenges, barriers and solutions to participation in sport and physical activity, and suggest how to build a strong voice for sport in Toronto. The Sports in Our Community Summit Series runs from Oct. 16 to 29. Register at www.torontosportscouncil.com.