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Own the Podium funding may die

No confidence vote on budget would push sport funding increases back a year

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It’s not uncommon for important pieces of legislation to "die" on the table when an election is called – it took 12 years for Canada to pass any kind of endangered species legislation as successive bills never came up for vote.

This year, almost $70 million in additional funding for Sport Canada and $87 million for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games will die if the Conservative Party of Canada is successful in its bid to force a vote of no confidence over the 2005 budget. Sport Canada would see funding levels drop to about $70 million a year, a level that has been criticized as too low after Canada’s disappointing showing at the 2004 Summer Games.

One program that will be affected is $55 million in federal money for the $110 million Own the Podium program over the next five years. Own The Podium will provide money for winter sports and sport technology research to help Canada in its goal of winning 35 medals at home in 2010. The other half of the money will be provided by the B.C. government and the Vancouver Organizing Committee through sponsorships.

With less than five years to go before the 2010 Games, $21 million a year in total funding for Own The Podium was expected to start immediately. Some winter sport organizations would have seen their budgets more than double with the new funding, while every organization would have seen some kind of increase in line with their prospects for winnings medals in 2006 and 2010. But with the federal budget in doubt, so is the federal government’s share of the new funding.

Another concern for winter sports organizations is additional funding for the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy this February, which were part of the overall budget package.

As well, federal funding for all sports programs was expected to be in the neighbourhood of $110 million a year.

"If we pass the budget, (funding is) secured," said Steve Owen, the federal Minister of State responsible for sport, in an interview with The Globe and Mail. "If we don’t, we start all over again at $70 million (a year)."

Under Own The Podium, the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association would see funding increase by $540,000 a year to 2010, plus $150,000 to upgrade the water ramps at Whistler. Although another election would delay that funding, the CFSA is confident that they will see the money eventually.

"My understanding is that it’s not a question of if it will be funded, it’s a question of when," said Peter Judge, CEO of the CFSA. "This (funding) initiative is bipartisan, is supported by all the political parties… I think if an election was called it probably would delay the distribution of money, but I have a level of confidence that (an election) would not squash it. I think politicians and corporate sponsors recognize that sports will need funding to be able to compete with the world, and to be successful at home."

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