Federal government says it will restore funding to Hockey Canada — with conditions

The federal government is restoring its funding to Hockey Canada, saying the organization must fulfil several conditions in exchange for the financial support.

“While federal financing is only a fraction of Hockey Canada’s revenues, I wish to reiterate that our funding is not a blank cheque,” said Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge in a letter addressed to Hugh Fraser, Hockey Canada’s board chair.

“Hockey Canada also must tackle issues regarding safe sport, such as the toxic behaviours, the trivialization of sexual violence, and the culture of silence, which has too often made the headlines,” St-Onge wrote. “There is no reason why such situations should continue to plague hockey or any other sport.”

Hockey Canada has been embroiled in controversy since it was revealed it used registration fees paid by parents to settle a case in which a young woman alleged eight hockey players sexually assaulted her after a 2018 Hockey Canada gala.

Bruce Kidd, a professor emeritus of sports policy and sport politics at the University of Toronto, told CBC News on Sunday that the focus now is on Sport Canada’s ability to ensure Hockey Canada lives up to its promises.

“Sports Canada has been very good at establishing standards for funded sports bodies, but terrible at reviewing them for compliance, let alone enforcing compliance,” he said.

In a statement released Sunday by Hockey Canada, Fraser said the government’s announcement represented “an important milestone for Hockey Canada in our journey to earn and maintain the trust of Canadians.

“While I would like to thank Minister St-Onge and the government for their vote of confidence and for their ongoing efforts to prioritize safe sport in Canada, I also wish to stress that we still have work to do to change the culture of our sport,” Fraser said in the statement.

St-Onge speaks during question period in January. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Speaking to reporters Sunday in Brampton, Ont., ahead of the gold-medal game of this year’s women’s hockey world championship, St-Onge said the government’s suspension of funding did have an effect — but it was never intended to be permanent.

“We think Hockey Canada is on the right path, but it’s not a blank cheque, we’ll continue to monitor their progress and if we see that there’s a turn in the wrong direction, we won’t hesitate to take additional actions,” she said in French.

“There’s going to be a lot of monitoring and reporting, and we want to make sure that they keep on moving in the right direction.”

Funding is only a portion of overall revenue

CBC News reported last month that the government was considering restoring funding to the organization. Hockey Canada received $7.7 million from Sport Canada — a department of Heritage Canada — in the 2022 fiscal year but their funding has been frozen for 10 months. Sport Canada’s funding comprises about seven per cent of overall revenue, according to government statistics.

A financial statement also shows the organization ended the fiscal year in June with $98 million. Kate Bahen, managing director of Charity Intelligence Canada, told CBC News last month that “Hockey Canada does not need the money.”

St-Onge said in her letter that the funding will be aimed at delivering “high-performance programming for the women’s, men’s and para-ice hockey programs.”

Hockey Canada’s board turned over completely in October of last year, paving the way for a new board, which St-Onge praised in her letter for its diversity and expertise, representing “a first step forward.”

The funding is conditional on the organization meeting several expectations, the sport minister said. The organization will need to update the government on their work on changing the culture of hockey; implementing recommendations of two reports; and promoting the government’s safe sport program for athletes and member organizations.

“I appreciate the steps taken thus far by the organization as we work to rebuild the culture of hockey in Canada,” St-Onge wrote.

In its statement Sunday, Hockey Canada said it believes progress has been made since its new board was elected, but more needs to be done and “Hockey Canada will continue to be transparent and accountable to her and all Canadians moving forward.”

The federal government has pressured Hockey Canada to work toward a change in hockey culture, with an emphasis on inclusion and safety. CBC reporting reveals that many Canadians still feel the sports system is in crisis.

“Hockey culture will only change if it is addressed at all levels, and I believe Hockey Canada needs to drive this transformation,” St-Onge wrote.

“I think that we need to keep on talking about the culture of silence, the sexual violence, the toxic culture, because I don’t think everything has changed in a day,” the minister said from Brampton Sunday evening.

“It’s not turning the page, it’s continuing the work.”

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