Ski Day on the Hill - The Hill Times

'The more we invest in health, the less we need to invest in health care,' says ex-Olympian and MP Van Koeverden during Ski Day on the Hill, while first ministers meet in Ottawa

Mention sports or fitness at an event, and Liberal Member of Parliament Adam van Koeverden is bound to show up.

A four-time Olympic medallist (one gold, two silver, and one bronze) in canoe-kayak sprint men's singles, the 41-year-old, Toronto-born van Koeverden's (Milton, Ont.) first athletic home is on the water. Instead, van Koeverden, the parliamentary secretary to both Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos (Québec, Que.) and Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge (Brome-Missisquoi, Que.), finds himself strapped into a pair of cross-country skis on Feb. 7, the weather a mix of snow and ice pellets, skiing laps around a five-metre-wide track on the west lawn of Parliament Hill.

The Liberal MP was there to mark the fifth annual Ski Day on the Hill, the brainchild of former British Columbia Conservative senator and legendary alpine skier Nancy Greene Raine, who won a gold medal and a silver medal in the women's slalom events at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France.

"There are no seasons for sport in Canada," said van Koeverden in an on-site interview with The Hill Times. "We have to get out 12 months a year, use our bodies and maximize all the benefits physical activity has for us, particularly kids," about 100 of whom-as part of a ski exchange between the Gatineau, Que.-based Nakkertok Ski Club and Larch Hills Ski Club of Salmon Arm, B.C.-descended on the Hill on Feb. 7.

 "I don't think there's any amount of physical activity that would be too much," he said, noting that he entered politics to help deliver that message.

It was not lost on the MP, who was first elected to the House of Commons in 2019, that while he skied on the lawn, Canada's first ministers were meeting a few blocks away at the Delta Hotel, in the midst of reaching a 10-year, $196.1-billion health funding deal for the provinces and territories, with $46.2-billion in new money, none of which is specifically targeted to health promotion.

"There's a big, obvious connection between health and health care," said van Koeverden, who, as both health and sport parliamentary secretary, straddles both worlds. "Health is [a] preventative measure for health care. The more we invest in health, the less we need to invest in health care down the road."

"That's not to suggest that physical activity solves every single problem," he said. "There are still diseases, and people are still going to require health care."

Independent Senator Marty Deacon (Waterloo Region, Ont.), who was appointed to the Upper Chamber in 2018 when Greene Raine retired, hosted this year's Ski Day on the Hill. She said the event draws from the National Health and Fitness Day Act, which Greene Raine sponsored and which received royal assent in 2014, declaring the first Saturday in June (this year, on June 3) as National Health and Fitness Day.

Independent Senator Marty Deacon, left, gets to skiing with Liberal MP Adam van Koeverden, while espousing the benefits of physical activity. The Hill Times photograph by Christopher Guly

Deacon, a member of the Independent Senators Group who was involved in 15 Olympic, Commonwealth and Pan Am games -including as chef de mission leading Team Canada at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India - told The Hill Times that the goal is to promote fitness on Parliament Hill.

"How do parliamentarians first model this?" she said, noting that MPs and Senators do not have "an easy life" in maintaining proper physical activity, diet, sleep and stress management, and that her office regularly sends them tips on how to achieve healthy living.

"The pandemic was tough, but it was an amazing opportunity to go online and share all kinds of activities and instructors to keep fitness alive."

Deacon said she ensures that she's "active every single day," and find ways to reduce stress, through meditation, doing yoga, and eating well. "I have a hard time sleeping, but I work at it so I sleep better," added the 64-year-old longtime educator.

Health, said Deacon, echoing van Koeverden, "is not just about physical activity. It's healthy eating, getting enough sleep, maintaining our mental health with both preventative measures and good therapy, and making sure that psychotherapy is more available is a huge issue for me."

In 2017, van Koeverden, who represented Canada at four Summer Games and was flag bearer at two of them (in Athens in 2004 and Beijing 2018), shared with CBC Sports that "conversation" and "kindness" helped him when he found himself "in a dark place without a foreseeable route out."

"Health is all about a big ecosystem" that requires funding for communities, social infrastructure "and in particular in subsidizing sports for young people," said van Koeverden, who sits on the House Health Committee. "Physical literacy is a preventative measure for all that ails us. The more that we get young people active in Canada, the better the future we will have."

Canada is a "healthy and wealthy nation, but we've got a long ways to go to be the best," said the celebrated Olympian paddler.

"I'm really concerned about healthy kids. You can never invest too much in the health and wellness of young people. Every dollar we invest in a young person is worth $25 or $50 or $100 down the road."

Deacon said she hopes that MPs and Senators become more involved in communities to ensure there are enough sports and recreational facilities available to residents.

"We need to make sure that we are promoting health, health, health, which involves physical activity, mental health, social health-all of it," she said.

"Healthy living is No. 1 because it's going to result in healthier people in an aging population. It's critically important that we have practice preventative health strategies across the country so people are seeing this as a natural part of their life. They are looking after themselves, they are exercising their hearts. They are thinking about how they mentally respond. They are thinking about what they eat and they are putting sleep on the table and the screen is turned off."

Minister St-Onge, who popped by Ski Day on the Hill, said in a statement to The Hill Times that the federal government "will always be there to support mental and physical health initiatives."

As van Koeverden added: "It's incumbent on all of us as parliamentarians to focus on solutions."

He said that he does his job "best as a parliamentarian, as an MP, as a representative for people if I'm physically active because it keeps my brain sharp, it keeps me happy."

"I'm very, very privileged as an Olympic athlete to have had access to all the best infrastructure, coaching, facilities, and funding over the years-and I want to make sure that's universally available in Canada."

The Hill Times


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