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Nater's work with standing committee is over but changes to hockey culture continue

John Nater's work with the standing committee on Canadian heritage is complete after a year in which he co-chaired parliamentary hearings that revealed a lack of transparency and accountability at Hockey Canada. Ultimately, the CEO and the entire board of directors resigned and the national hockey governing body has been revamped
John Nater
Perth-Wellington MP John Nater.

It was a whirlwind year for John Nater as vice-chair of the standing committee on Canadian heritage.

The committee's work was front and centre as they hosted a series of hearings with Hockey Canada officials, who were questioned over the handling of reports of an alleged group sexual assault involving members of Canada’s men’s junior hockey team and a female victim at a London hotel after a Hockey Canada event.

How Hockey Canada handled those allegations, including details of a payout to the alleged victim, were brought into focus at the summer hearings. The Perth-Wellington MP found himself in the spotlight, leading off questions - at some hearings - directed at Hockey Canada senior management and its board of directors. 

"What we saw happen throughout the year brought a lot of public attention to this file," Nater told StratfordToday. "There was a lot of public pressure to make meaningful changes at Hockey Canada. I think, unfortunately, it took a little longer than it should have to see those changes at the top."

Eventually, the entire board of directors of hockey's national sports organization resigned, as did Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith. TSN reported in May that an undisclosed settlement had been paid to a woman who alleged in a $3.55-million lawsuit she was sexually assaulted by eight players, including members of the country's world junior team after a 2018 Hockey Canada gala in London.

Answers provided to MPs at the hearings left them disillusioned at the lack of transparency and accountability. Government funding was cut off to Hockey Canada and sponsors paused or cancelled their funding agreements with the hockey body. News broke of a secretive fund partly maintained by minor hockey registration fees to pay for uninsured liabilities, including claims of sexual assault and abuse. Hockey Canada then announced members of the 2003 world junior team were being investigated for a group sexual assault, just before releasing an action plan to address safe sport issues.

"I do credit the newly elected board chair and board of directors for bringing in some of that safe sport criteria, safe sport programming," Nater said. "It is needed at the organization. Everyone is going in the right direction."

Hockey Canada elected a new board of directors in December. The organization said it is a diverse group with experience in governance, law, sports and business. They include board chair Hugh Fraser, a retired judge and former Olympian, who served on the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and Cassie Campbell, a three time Olympic champion with Canada's women's hockey team. The board includes five women, among them Marian Jacko, an Anishinaabe from Wiikwemkoong First Nation, and the assistant deputy Attorney General for the Indigenous justice division of the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General.

"We are a diverse country with diverse participants in these sports so we need leadership positions to reflect those that they serve," Nater said. 

Nater said while it is going to take a lot of time to change the culture of Hockey Canada, he believes they are on the right track. He hopes other national sports organizations "focus on safe sport and community building", particularly for children and youth participants.

Nater's time with the standing committee on Canadian heritage has come to an end. Normally a low key committee, its work has become increasingly important and watched, as it reviews and reports on policies, programs and expenditure plans. Sport is included in its policies and programs. Sport Canada is a branch of the department of Canadian heritage and develops federal sport policy and provides funding programs for Canadian sports. The Government of Canada, through Sport Canada, funds Canadian sports organizations such as Hockey Canada.

Ultimately, the committee's work helped lead to ground breaking changes in the governance of the country's most popular sport. 

"It was a busy year on that file," he said. 

Nater is now vice-chair of the procedure and house affairs committee, which studies and reports on the rules and practices of the House of Commons and its committees, electoral matters, questions of privilege, MP conflicts of interest, internal administration of the House, and services and facilities for MPs, per the House of Commons website. 

In the year ahead, Nater said he is focusing on addressing increasing cost of living for Canadians. Whether it's at the grocery store, or in the housing market, Canadians are paying more. There is no easy fix, he suggested. 

"It is tough for a lot of people to get by right now. We have brought forward a few ideas for short term solutions to try and make things affordable...we are trying to find solutions to make life a little bit more affordable for Canadians."

Nater said he is also looking forward to working locally with municipal councils to address affordable and attainable housing.

He is also working on a private member's bill, with Senator Rob Black - Bill S227, an act to establish Food Day in Canada, on the Saturday before the first Monday in August.  Food Day has been informally recognized across Canada since 2003 when Wellington County food activist and University of Guelph Food Laureate Anita Stewart championed the day in support of beef farmers during the 2003 bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis.

Nater said it would be a symbolic measure, not a law in the sense of making change, "but a law that will celebrate the agricultural industry."