Yukon Government at Work, So Yukoners Can Play (and Succeed)

Brad Cathers, MLA for Lake Laberge

As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, March 21st, 2014
by Brad Cathers, Minister of Community Services

Yukoners are known nationally and internationally for their love of sport, recreation and the outdoors, so it should come as no surprise that we have a number of elite Yukon athletes, despite our small population. The qualification of local athlete Emily Nishikawa for the Canadian National Cross-country Ski Team at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games and the outstanding performance of Graham Nishikawa as he helped guide cross-country skier Brian McKeever to three gold medals at the Paralympic Winter Games are perfect examples.

Further examples include nationally-carded Yukon athletes like cyclist Zach Bell and cross-country skiers Colin Abbott, Knute Johnsgaard and former Olympic weight-lifter Jeane Lassen. Yukon is well known for producing quality swimmers, successful distance runners, extreme sport enthusiasts and countless university varsity athletes in various sports.

Why is it that so many talented athletes are coming out of this small jurisdiction? The Yukon government’s role has never been more important in creating and growing a culture of active living.

The opportunity to participate in national and international multi-sport competitions is essential to the growth and development of our athletes, coaches and trainers. Many of our athletes got their start as members of Team Yukon in competitions like the Arctic Winter Games. Our team is currently representing us proudly in Fairbanks, Alaska, for which the government provided $400,000 toward Team Yukon’s travel and management. Funding like this allows the athletes and cultural ambassadors to put more focus on their preparation and performance.

The government’s investments in sport and recreation reflect our belief in the importance of an active lifestyle. In the 2013/14 operation and maintenance budget for Sport & Recreation, $3.36 million was identified to support Volunteer Yukon, Special Olympics Yukon, Sport Yukon, Recreation and Parks Association of Yukon, Yukon Aboriginal Sport Circle, 28 Yukon sport governing bodies, and five Yukon special recreation organizations. Of this, more than $535,000 was set aside for athlete and coaching initiatives under the Yukon Sport for Life, High Performance and Elite Athlete programs.

Financial investment aside, how is your government helping Yukon athletes succeed?

To foster active living from childhood and beyond, we are looking at the new Canadian Sport Policy to map out our priorities for the next five to ten years and produce a new Yukon Sport Action Plan to guide our funding and focus for years to come. As well, we are continuing to build on the current success of the Yukon Active Living Strategy which provides active living opportunities for all Yukoners.

The government worked with “Friends of Sima” to ensure local downhill skiers, snowboarders and mountain bikers have a place to train and develop their skills. A three-year commitment from the Yukon government to match sponsorship and donations, in addition to the $253,000 to cover debts, has helped volunteers successfully open Mount Sima this winter.

We are also partnering in an initiative involving the departments of Community Services, Education and Economic Development, as well as Sport Yukon, in a new sport and physical literacy program that is a first for Yukon and that benefits children, youth and communities. This project began last fall at F. H. Collins Secondary School and provides students in grades 10 to 12 with opportunities to enhance physical performance in the sport of their choice. It is based on a program in British Columbia that has enjoyed tremendous success. In addition, the department of Education introduced a similar program at Porter Creek Secondary School in Whitehorse earlier this year.

As Minister of Community Services, I’m proud to see our government’s funding for sport and recreation put to good use. The results speak for themselves in the success of our many athletes. Our government is committed to seeing even further growth through the dollars and initiatives I’ve mentioned.

The athletes at the 2014 Arctic Winter Games may be only at the beginning of their athletic journey, but I know that we can expect more great things from Yukoners in the future. I wish good luck to all our athletes and offer my thanks to everyone who made Team Yukon’s presence at these Games possible.