Sticks, Pucks and the Constitution
Date: Wednesday, May 27, 1992
Source: by Douglas Fisher, Toronto Sun
Seasonally the wondrous grace of Mario Lemieux is on us. And so is the constitutional competition now near a confused zenith.
We revel in the fluid mastery of Mario’s dekes and passes. They light up the game that best defines us. We don’t, however, wonder where Mario or hockey or sport as a whole fits, constitutionally speaking.
Which of our present three levels of government does Mario Lemieux best symbolize? Is he federal or provincial or municipal? The answer is all three.
You may take such questions and answers as spoofing, sure that what is either topical or eternal in hockey is far from matters that engage first ministers. You would be wrong.
Sport is politics, not least hockey. Take hockey in Ottawa itself as it gears up for an NHL operation. Or consider hockey as an obsession of young Indians. Or reflect on hockey as the prime cause of what are now widespread bureaucracies.
A fortnight ago with little fanfare Ottawa released ”The Report of the Minister’s Task Force on Federal Sport Policy,” titled Sport: The Way Ahead. It has six parts, 25 chapters and 311 pages. For all but full-time bureaucrats it’s just daunting mandarin prose. One doubts 100 citizens outside sports officialdom will ever read it.
Sport is a massive and diverse endeavor, engaging millions more than does either partisan politics or religion. Largely since 1969 our sports have been much bureaucratized – federally, provincially and municipally. The boom began with first federal task force on sport (1969). As one of its ghost-writers I know its real raison d’etre was hockey: The mounting disgrace of defeats by the USSR.
For national pride Ottawa had to act. So we got the task force and almost a crash involvement of our governments in sport. Few in either politics or sport bothered with respective responsibilities of governments or First Nations. Get winning!
Since then Canadian sport has become a shared jurisdiction, with much overlap with the private sector. And that has not been a great issue, even in Quebec (from whence Mario came). Along with governments, sport has huge participation by volunteers, strong professionalism and much money-making in a few endeavors for both athletes and promoters.
Each order of government is engaged in sport. Each staffs and spends on its own sports bureaucracy. Each puts up grants, tax easements, facilities and services for myriad sports from the corner lots to SkyDomes and the Big Owe.
How did Vancouver get into the NHL? Well, Mike Pearson as prime minister helped fund a suitable arena.
Why are the Jets still in Manitoba? Look at concessions by the city of Winnipeg and the provincial government.
Why do Canadian cities own and operate more civic arenas and Olympic-size swimming pools than American cities? Because of federal, provincial and municipal programs, most sky-hooked on needs of the Games cycle – Olympic, Pan-American, Commonwealth and Canada.
If you plough through The Way Ahead you find sport a metaphor for political and constitutional Canada. Except for this: Sports people conspire to fudge powers and jurisdictional lines. As bureaucrats and players, they’re in a constitutional muddle.
Consider chapter 17, titled ”Equity and access.” It has much on nurturing ”rights” in sport now taken as beyond argument -rights ”of women, the indigenous community, athletes with a disability, and ethnic and visible minority groups.”
Isn’t that familiar from constitutional gatherings? It’s the very stuff we get from the NAC, from Ovide Mercredi and his chiefs, from the multicult elite.
The world’s literature of bureaucracy is repetitious: The No. 1 aim of a bureaucracy once under way is to maintain itself and grow! So with the sport bureaucracies.
Despite its ponderousness, The Way Ahead never roots around the respective roles of our governments. So it doesn’t threaten the No. 1 aim of the respective sport bureaucracies. Would that this were the model for the whole country: Working with shared and muddled responsibilities.
The last segment explains ”Why the federal government should contribute funding and support for the development of sport.” The whys are ”youth development, education and training; cultural identity and national unity; the face of the Canadian character; a reference point for our values and ethics; and a contribution to social challenges.”
It seems to me the Marios and Waynes fit each of these good purposes. And sport in Canada shows rights and powers can be shared . . . if you don’t fret over them.
The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 1992, SunMedia Corp.
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