Canada's newest sports minister scouts Olympic team

Kirsty Duncan - former gymnast, coach, and judge - feels personal connections to sports file

Canada's newest sports minister scouts Olympic team
Canada's new sports minister Kirsty Duncan, right, spends time with figure skater Patrick Chan during Wednesday's flag raising ceremony in the Gangneung Athletes Village at the Winter Olympics. Duncan is in Pyeongchang, South Korea, to see the impact her portfolio has on Canada's elite athletes. © Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press

By Donna Spencer, Canadian Press

Just days into the job as Canada's minister of sport, Kirsty Duncan is in Pyeongchang, South Korea, to see the impact her portfolio has on the country's elite athletes.

"I'm here to learn," Duncan said Wednesday at the opening of Canada Olympic House.

"I think this is such an important file from inspiring the nation, healthy active lifestyles, from the recreational athlete to the pre-competitor to the competitor to the elite athletes."

The 51-year-old MP from Etobicoke North is the third sports minister since the Trudeau government's first cabinet appointments in 2015. She's the second named in the last five months.

She follows Kent Hehr, who resigned last month pending an investigation into allegations of inappropriate conduct towards women, and Carla Qualtrough, a former Paralympian re-assigned to public services in a cabinet shuffle in August, 2017.

Duncan, a medical geographer who published a book about the Spanish flu, was appointed Minister of Science in 2015. The portfolio of Persons with Disabilities came with the sports appointment.

She was the sport critic when in opposition. A former gymnast who turned to coaching and judging, and now a marathon runner, Duncan says she feels personal connections to the sports file.

$200M in taxpayer money

"As a former athlete, coach and judge, this is near and dear to my heart," she said. "This really is a huge part of my life."

The Canadian taxpayer is the single largest investor in Canada's Olympians and Paralympians to the tune of about $200 million spent annually on high-performance sport.

Own The Podium makes funding recommendations directing $70 million of it annually money — about $6 million of that comes from the Canadian Olympic Committee — to sports federations whose athletes demonstrate medal potential.

OPT's recommendations require ministerial approval.

A significant sport decision, whether the federal government will financially support Calgary bidding for the 2026 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, is also on the horizon.

The city is currently researching and debating a bid. Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi has said a bid won't happen without provincial and federal government support.

'Calgary 1988 left such a proud legacy'

The IOC will invite cities to bid for 2026 in October, 2018 with the deadline being January, 2019.

"Sport Canada has been working closely with the city and the province," Duncan said. "We've just received the most recent numbers for the budget, so I can go forward to the prime minister and my cabinet colleagues with the most accurate information.

"We have to take our time. We have to do due diligence and make the right decision and not a rushed decision.

"We all remember Calgary 1988. It's left such a proud legacy."

The sports portfolio has been an active one recently. A departmental review of how Canada divvies up taxpayer dollars among its athletes concluded in 2017.

Half of the Olympic athletes surveyed in the review said the administration of targeted excellence funding "needs a major re-think and revisions."

Roughly 1,900 Canadian athletes got raises in their monthly "carding" cheques" last year when the federal budget increased contributions to the Athletes Assistance Fund by 18 per cent.

A senior card increased $265 dollars per month to $1,765.