Q&A: Liberal Minister Carla Qualtrough

Carla1Q&A: Carla Qualtrough, Canada’s Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities

A successful lawyer, dedicated volunteer, and Paralympic swimmer, Carla Qualtrough’s commitment to addressing inequality and championing diversity makes her a strong advocate for Delta, B.C. Committed to equity and inclusion, Qualtrough has practised human rights law at the federal and provincial levels. She chaired the Minister’s Council on Employment and Accessibility in B.C., and was an adjudicator with the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal.

Qualtrough has been visually impaired since birth. Passionate about the power of sport and physical activity to change lives, Qualtrough has volunteered locally, nationally, and internationally, including with the International Paralympic Committee and for the Toronto 2015 Pan and Parapan American Games. She has been President of the Canadian Paralympic Committee and Chair of the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada. Qualtrough was on the Board of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, and was Vice-Chair of the Delta Gymnastics Society.

As an athlete, Qualtrough won a bronze medal in swim relays at the Seoul Paralympics in 1988, and two more bronze medals in swim relays at the 1992 Barcelona Paralympics. In addition, she captured four World Championship medals. Qualtrough has degrees in political science from the University of Ottawa and law from the University of Victoria. Among many awards for her work, she has been named one of Canada’s Most Influential Women in Sport six times, and received a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.

LondonOntarioSports.com editor Jeffrey Reed spoke with Minister Qualtrough about her new post and upcoming endeavours.

Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com:  Minister Qualtrough, since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named you Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, you’ve touched upon some important issues which you plan to address. You’ve stated that sport has been historically underutilized in government to address other broader social-policy objectives – for example, helping with crime prevention through after-school programs for youth, and combatting obesity. Hand in hand with this is your goal to push for a larger focus on sports in schools.

Canada’s Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities Carla Qualtrough: The way I would describe it, Jeff, is that we see sport as a means and as an end. There’s a huge priority put on high-performance sports, and supporting our next generation of athletes, and sport participation – all of those wonderful things where sport is the end. But we also see sport as a means. So we’ve got a very broad and ambitious mandate: maybe some of the things we need to look at and do can be achieved through sport. So if you’re talking about youths at risk, or childhood obesity, or talking about engaging aboriginal youth, these things can be done through sport. It’s kind of the social pool as a means of addressing broader social policy objectives, and education would be one of those. It sounds silly, but I think if we do one thing in regards to physical activity in Canada, it would be to have daily physical education with specialist teachers back in our schools. If we could, then that’s a provincial jurisdiction. We know that Federal-Provincial relations haven’t been stellar over the past decade. I can tell you, though, in sport they’re amongst the most functioning across all the files. They’ve had a pretty functional relationship, definitely at a bureaucratic level, but there’s certainly more we can do. As we partner with education, even within the Federal government, physical activity is still outside of Sport Canada, so we have to do better horizontal integration where we’re working with the public health agency to use sport and recreation to help them advance their objectives around things like obesity and around physical literacy and all the things that we know are benefits of sport. So I think there’s a huge potential there in terms of partnerships.

carla2Reed: There are so many different sports groups in Canada who intertwine with each other – more than 50 national sports groups alone. You’ve stated that you see opportunities for all of these groups – for example, Canada Basketball to lawn bowling’s Bowls Canada – to better organize sport in our country. And one idea you’ve mentioned is to put a single financial executive or operations person in place to be responsible for multiple national sports groups. I do know that your new post as Minister has caught the eye of Golf Canada, for example. But on this topic, is it absolutely necessary for these 50-plus groups to work together? We all know that sports groups can be very political at best.

Qualtrough: I think the better we work together, the more efficiencies we can create. I think that there are thing that are very unique to individual sports, for example on the technical side, and on the rural side. There are quirks for every sport. But there are also commonalities. And on the administrative side, and the operational side, everybody needs bookkeeping or secretarial support, for example. You could envision a shared services model perhaps, where you don’t have five treasurers and five bookkeepers. I think there may be some clever ways of reducing the administrative side, which doesn’t mean taking that money out of the sports system. It means redirecting it into actual programs and services for athletes and communities. I don’t think we all have to hold hands, and move forward with a very tight vision to the exclusion of other priorities. But I think the more we can work together, the more sport will benefit.

Reed: I’d like to talk about disabled sports and disabled athletes. I am a disabled athlete. Opportunities are much more plentiful today than ever before which help create a more level playing field. We are accepted, for the most part, by the greater society. But there is always room for improvement. Do you see many more opportunities to level that playing field?

Qualtrough:  I sure do. And I always do. Look back to when I competed in the Paralympics (in 1988 and ’92). We’ve come a heck of a long way since then in terms of how we organize sport, in terms of how we recognize athletes, in terms of how we fund Parasport and Paralympic athletes. I think there’s some work to be done at the grassroots level in communities. I don’t think all community sport is inclusive. My personal perspective is I think that we need to offer, to be inclusive, different kinds of opportunities. So, sure, we need to offer integrated opportunities for those kids, and for those athletes. That’s great. But there will be other children and athletes who respond better in an environment that’s more disability specific. And then there’ll be opportunities where it’s an able-bodied program that’s been adaptive. So I think that we need to think – it’s like putting the disability back on athletes with the disability. It’s okay to talk about the fact that I can’t see, or somebody can’t walk, or somebody has CP. It’s part of who you are. I’m a woman. For example, yes, we talk about that, and the way you train me or the way you interact with me as a coach – that’s impacted to get the best out of me, just like it would be impacted by my disability. I think we need to be okay talking about disabilities, in the context of optimal athlete performance. Not because we like to talk about it, but because it impacts your performance. Then that’s okay. It impacts the way I work. It impacts the way I play. It impacts the way I train. And that’s okay, because a lot of things about me, about you, or about anybody impact the way we do anything. So I think that communities need to be more inclusive and open-minded in terms of their programming, and I think that’s at the grassroots level. We’ve got a very complicated system, certainly for parents and young children with disabilities. It’s hard to find a place for their kid to fit in.  And that’s really challenging. Sometimes you stumble upon it because you find a great volunteer or a great coach, not necessarily because a good system is in place. Instead, it’s because of the people. You may happen upon a community rec volunteer who decides that they want your kid to be included and they’re going to do whatever it takes to get that kid included. So they remove barriers for them. But it’s not the program that did that; it’s the person. So I think that programmatically we can do a better job including kids with all abilities – and not just physical disabilities, but intellectual, too. We need to look at mental health, and youth mental health, and how we can possibly address that through, as we say here in Canada, true sport-type experiences.

carla3Reed: The last issue I want to discuss is assisting our elite athletes – in specific, Olympians, like London’s own Damian Warner. The cry for financial support is constant. Over the past decade, Own The Podium has given $500 million to athletes with a best shot at medalling. But there are many other up-and-coming athletes who need help, too – the future of sports. Is this an issue your ministry will address?

Qualtrough: I hope so. Our Canadian athletes haven’t even had even a cost of living allowance for a number of years, in terms of the support the government gives them. I don’t know what our plan will be in addressing that. But I certainly recognize that the support athletes get from government is more of a subsidy. It’s more of a ‘let’s help you out.’ You can’t necessarily live on it. And then we’ve got athletes who are parents and athletes who have family responsibilities on top of that. I think it’s time to look at it. It’s one of the things I’ve told the bureaucratic side of things that it’s a priority for me – looking at how we fund our athletes, and making sure that we catch up to other countries in that regard. But I don’t know, when we have to put funding requests in to Treasury, how the mechanics of that will work, so I can’t make any promises. But it’s certainly on my radar as a priority.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office http://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com.

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