Canada's amateur and Olympic sport community was optimistic yesterday that sport is moving up the federal government's agenda after Stan Keyes was named the Minister of State for Sport and Minister of National Revenue, and Hélène Scherrer replaced Sheila Copps as Heritage Minister in Prime Minister Paul Martin's federal cabinet.
There is still no full sport ministry. Keyes must shoehorn his sport responsibilities into a full work day that includes Canadian customs and taxation. But there were four reasons to feel positive, according to Olympic and amateur sport officials:
Keyes has a place of his own at the cabinet table as Revenue Minister;
Minister of State for Sport is considered a notch above the Secretary of State status held by the outgoing Paul DeVillers;
Keyes's direct involvement in the taxation department could bring tax-free sport equipment for kids a step closer -- something called for in a federal study on sport by MP Dennis Mills;
The sport portfolio still reports to the Heritage department under current legislation. Scherrer is considered passionately pro-sport.
Keyes, a 50-year-old former broadcaster, is in his fourth term as the MP for Hamilton West. Scherrer, MP for the Quebec riding of Louis-Hébert, is in her first term but is well known in the sport community and made a point of attending Olympic and coaching conferences this year.
"The Martin government's commitment to sport is quite evident," said Victor Lachance, senior leader of the sport lobbying collective Sport Matters. "It's a good day for the future of sport. We can think of no better minister of Heritage for Mr. Keyes to have as a partner in fulfilling the potential of sport. Hélène Scherrer comes from a province that pays a lot of attention to sport and can bring that perspective to the rest of Canada."
Lachance said Keyes had a track record of hard work on sport. He'd been part of Mills's report, championing sport's contribution to a society. He was involved in the Hamilton bid for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
With Keyes's connection to the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, Lachance said there's a chance that the chronically underfunded sport and physical activity sector could get some tax relief that would benefit parents, coaches, players and volunteers.
The current cabinet arrangement will last until Martin calls an election, which could come next spring. A source said that during interviews of potential cabinet ministers, MPs were told not to get too attached to their titles.
"But the sport sector would be happy to work in the long haul with Mr. Keyes," Lachance said.
Chris Rudge, the chief executive officer of the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), lauded Scherrer's experience organizing sporting events in Quebec, "the province with a model support structure for amateur athletes." He said the COC is looking for greater sport funding in the 2004 budget.
"Success for Canada at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver requires the government to play a leading role in fostering excellence among Canadian athletes at the development level," Rudge said. "Appointing Madame Scherrer and Mr. Keyes is an important step toward the realization of our vision to make Canada one of the top sporting nations in the world."
Tom Jones, the chief executive officer of the national athlete organization Athletes CAN, said the tandem of Keyes and Scherrer "brings sport closer to the resources we need, to prepare and to provide athletes with the resources to win."
Keyes's posting came as somewhat of a surprise to some members of the sporting community as his name was not on the list of potential candidates. Among them were Scherrer; Mills, the MP for Toronto-Danforth; and Denis Coderre, the MP for the riding of Bourassa in Quebec. Coderre moved from Immigration to President of the Queen's Privy Council and took on responsibilities in a number of native files.