On the heels of another tense hearing with Hockey Canada‘s past and current board chairs defending the organization, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and MPs were unequivocal on Wednesday in their condemnation of Hockey Canada’s resistance to making changes that they say are necessary.
“It boggles the mind that Hockey Canada is continuing to dig in its heels. Parents across the country are losing faith, or have lost faith in Hockey Canada,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on his way in to a Liberal caucus meeting.
“Certainly, politicians here in Ottawa have lost faith in Hockey Canada. It’s no surprise that provincial organizations are questioning whether or not they want to continue supporting an organization that doesn’t understand how serious the situation it has contributed to causing,” he continued, referencing Hockey Quebec’s decision to no longer transfer funds to the national organization.
Hockey Quebec’s board passed a motion on Tuesday night, stating that it no longer thinks Hockey Canada is capable of changing hockey culture under its current structure.
Federal Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge told reporters on Wednesday that she thinks Hockey Quebec’s decision “sends the message to the leaders at the organization that are holding on to their jobs, that Hockey Canada doesn’t belong to them. It also belongs to their members, and they want change.”
Asked if other provincial hockey bodies should follow suit, St-Onge said she thinks that all voting members “need to clean the house.”
For months, federal politicians have been examining Hockey Canada’s handling of alleged sexual assaults and lawsuit pay-outs, with all parties calling for a change to senior leadership and a full airing of the facts with a clear plan for reform.
During a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday, officials faced a barrage of questions from MPs frustrated by continuing revelations about Hockey Canada’s management of sexual assault claims and funding, with MPs demanding answers why Hockey Canada President Scott Smith hasn’t been fired.
Hockey Canada continues to defend its handling of the matter, suggesting Tuesday that it’s not worth the risk of lights going off in Canadian rinks should all senior leaders leave, and is claiming some of its actions have been mischaracterized.
The national governing body for hockey in Canada which has hired a public relations firm to help navigate the controversy — has also said it is working on addressing safe sport concerns, has made changes to how it uses certain funding, and has appointed a former Supreme Court justice to conduct a governance review.
However, on Wednesday MPs made it clear they don’t think the steps Hockey Canada has taken are nearly sufficient.
“We need meaningful change at the top of Hockey Canada. Obviously the CEO has to go, and other management has to go as well. What we’ve seen over the past few months is a complete unwillingness to be transparent and complete unwillingness to make the changes necessary to ensure that Canadians have trust and faith in the leadership of Hockey Canada,” said Conservative MP John Nater, who has been among the main questioners of the organization throughout the House Canadian Heritage Committee’s hearings.
Nater, speaking on his way into a Conservative caucus meeting, said he thinks other provincial organizations should follow Hockey Quebec’s lead.
Echoing his colleague, Conservative MP Kevin Waugh said Hockey Canada’s sponsors also have a responsibility to “stand up and push back.”
Tim Hortons said Wednesday that it informed Hockey Canada this week that it has pulled out of all men’s hockey programming for the 2022-23 season including the men’s world junior championships.
“We’ve communicated to Hockey Canada on many occasions that the organization needs to take strong and definitive action before it can regain the faith and trust of Canadians. We’re deeply disappointed in the lack of progress that Hockey Canada has made to date,” said the fast food giant’s media relations in a statement to CTV News. “We continue to fund Canada’s women’s and para hockey teams, as well as youth hockey.”
Scotiabank also released a statement Wednesday, saying the company’s sponsorship pause of Hockey Canada will remain in effect for the 2022-23 season and the world junior tournament.
“In our open letter in June, we publicly called on Hockey Canada to hold the game to a higher standard and we are disappointed with the lack of progress to date.” Scotiabank said in a statement to CTV National News. “From Hockey Canada, we expect a tangible commitment to transparency with Canadians, strong leadership, accountability with their stakeholders and the hockey community, and improved safety both on and off the ice. Ultimately our position hasn’t wavered: the time for change is long overdue.”
Referencing interim Hockey Canada board chair Andrea Skinner’s comments during Tuesday’s hearing about the risk of rinks going dark should there be a complete overhaul of senior leadership, Waugh said “come on.”
“The Toronto Blue Jays fired their manager midseason, where are they today? They’re in the playoffs. You can make changes in an organization and you know, we can cite several hockey teams over the years have made changes. Hockey Canada needs to make changes,” he said. “They’re pretty arrogant right now.”
Speaking about Tuesday’s testimony, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that he was “pretty shocked at the complete lack of understanding of the seriousness of the problem.”
“Rightly so, people are appalled, people are upset, and we need to do everything we can to put pressure on Hockey Canada to change. It’s clear right now that the leadership doesn’t get it and so calling for resignation of the leadership I think is appropriate,” Singh said.
Liberal MP and parliamentary secretary for Canadian Heritage Chris Bittle told reporters that he’d like to see the ongoing parliamentary study expanded to hear from witnesses beyond those connected to Hockey Canada, such as experts and other sports stakeholders who can help provide recommendations. He said parliamentarians should also look at former Supreme Court judge Thomas Cromwell’s interim recommendations which are expected to be presented ahead of Hockey Canada’s annual general meeting in November.
“Hockey Canada hasn’t learned its lesson. It doesn’t seem to be interested in change. It seems interested in promoting the status quo,” Bittle said. “Ultimately this is for kids, it’s for the sport that Canadians love, is that there needs to be significant changes this organization, But also, other national sports organizations need to be watching this because Hockey Canada isn’t the only one that has problems going on.”
With a file from CTV National News Parliamentary Bureau reporter Annie Bergeron-Oliver