Motion to Urge Government to Make Sporting Facilities Available One Day Annually at a Reduced or Complimentary Rate

Honourable senators, I had just mentioned to Senator Raine that I had intended to speak to this matter tomorrow, but I am happy to speak to it now.

This is regarding childhood obesity, and we talked about Senator Raine’s motion to establish a national health and fitness day. Every year, on the first Saturday in June, she would like to see — and I think we would all like to see — sporting facilities, from coast to coast to coast, offering their services at a reduced or complimentary rate. This initiative will allow families to get to know and be motivated by what these facilities have to offer. I applaud Senator Raine’s motion and what she is doing.

Fitness facilities are located in communities across the country and encourage lifestyle choices to prevent obesity. Canada provides its citizens with so many different opportunities for an active lifestyle, be it outdoors or in sporting facilities. A particularly good example of this is the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse. I had the pleasure of visiting it with Senator Lang, who invited me and Senator Demers in 2010 to a Special Olympics event, and I found that this is a classic example of where a community can really be together. It was the heart of the community and much more than a fitness centre. It was culturally pleasing. It was a day where people were swimming in the pool and or playing hockey on the rink or playing indoor soccer. There were so many things going on, and one could feel how a centre like that was the centre of attention for the people of Whitehorse. Can my honourable friends imagine having a day or more than just one day in a centre like that for free, where people, particularly those whose incomes are not that big, could come in and appreciate what is going on inside these facilities? Perhaps this motion can encourage communities to lower their rates, whether it is a municipal centre a centre run by the private sector.

Growing up in northern New Brunswick in the 1950s, I remember running around playing ball hockey in the summer, pond hockey in the winter or river hockey on the Restigouche. Those are tremendous memories. It seemed to be a simple thing to do outside, playing under the little light bulbs at the academy rink, in the cold. Parents wanted you to come home but you refused to go because you could not get your mittens off of the hockey stick; they were frozen there. It was a simple thing to do, and it was a wonderful “Canadian way.” I am sure, for many senators here, that those memories resonate with you as well.

Sadly, too many young Canadians today are more likely to sit in front of a screen, a big screen, a bigger screen or a bigger, bigger screen than to play outdoors or in a gym.

In the early 1970s, the Trudeau Government introduced the Participaction program to motivate and educate Canadians about getting fit. Some of us talked about still having the big pink sneaker on the front of a T-shirt. The idea was to get Canadians moving again. It was a simple and direct response to address a general lack of physical fitness within the population. Many senators might remember one of the program’s more popular long-running television spots, with the statement that the average 30 year-old Canadian is in about the same physical condition as the average 60 year-old Swede. If Daniel Alfredsson keeps playing, it may end up being the same since he is almost 40, and there are young Canadian kids who cannot keep up with that great Ottawa Senators’ hockey player, who is a Swede.

Participaction ended about 10 years ago but has recently returned with public awareness campaigns, including messages aimed at parents to help them realize that their children are probably not as active as they should be. We need programs like this to make us recognize that we are in pretty terrible shape and that it is time we do something about it.

The establishment of a national health and fitness day comes at a crucial time, as 25 per cent of Canadian adults are considered obese and we have one of the highest levels of childhood obesity in the world. Childhood obesity is a multi-faceted issue. Without proper nutrition, children and adults are more likely to become overweight or obese. For people who cannot afford to participate in sports programs, the situation is worse.

Because of a lack of access to fitness programs and nutritious food, compounded by poverty and inequality, adults in First Nations communities are more likely to be overweight or obese than non-Aboriginal adults. Fitness programs need to be made available for all communities, no matter their economic background.

Lifestyles that are increasingly lived just hanging around not doing very much, a lack of exercise and fitness programs in schools, and poor diets are among the main reasons children today are more likely to develop obesity-related chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers at younger ages than any other generation. Not only is this difficult for children and families, it also increases stress on our already overworked health care system.

Let us start addressing this issue now so that our young people can go back to simply being children. What Senator Raine is proposing is a very good start on the long road toward the eradication of obesity in this country. We, as senators, have the responsibility to encourage Canadians to remain physically active and to advocate for an everyday commitment to fitness. This motion proposes dedicating one day to fitness — just one day — that for many Canadians could well be the beginning of new healthy habits and routines. I strongly believe that a commitment to fitness has to become a lifelong, 365-day-a-year effort.

Our government needs to step up its commitment to helping children become more healthy and active. As all honourable senators know, healthy children are more likely to live rewarding lives and fully participate in society and, thereby, contribute to a healthier country.