Canada’s Olympians and Paralympians get pay raise ahead of 2018 Winter Olympics

Kent Hehr, minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, makes a funding announcement to help Canadian athletes. Global News

A pay raise for Canada’s Olympians and Paralympians is rolling out with the Winter Games just weeks away.

Sports Minister Kent Hehr revealed details of the increased money in the Athletes Assistance Program (APP) on Friday at WinSport, where many athletes train.

They receive monthly “carding” cheques from the AAP for living expenses and sport costs their federations don’t cover.

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A senior card is now worth $1,765 a month for a $265 increase.

Development card athletes get $1,060, which is a top-up of $160.

“This increase in funding will continue to allow athletes to strive for the podium,” Hehr said in a statement.

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About 1,900 athletes get carding money. This is the first increase since 2004.

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Former luger Jeff Christie, who chairs the Canadian Olympic Committee’s athletes’ commission, and Olympic champion paddler Adam van Koeverden led the charge for the first raise in 13 years.

“I was an athlete the last time they raised it,” Christie said.

In addition to their monthly raises, athletes are due for a bonus. They’re eligible for retroactive pay on the increases for the government’s 2017-18 fiscal year that started April 1.

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The 2018 Winter Olympics open Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, followed by the Paralympic Games in March.

“I hope the retro pay might give somebody the option to buy a piece of equipment that they needed and couldn’t afford yet,”

Christie said. The money to hire a nutrition coach, have more massages to aid recovery, or just pay the rent all help athletes’ performances and can keep them in their sport longer, he added.

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The feds committed in the March budget to pump an extra $5 million annually into the AAP for an 18-per cent increase.

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Tuition money has also jumped $500 to a maximum of $5,500 per year. Other grants such as child-care support come out of the AAP, which has a budget of $33 million for 2017-18.

Van Koeverden told The Canadian Press earlier this year he wanted a 24 per cent increase in carding to catch up with the rise of inflation over 13 years. He believes a senior card should be $2,000 per month.

At least 120 athletes wrote letters to members of Parliament and the minister of finance prior to the budget asking for a pay hike, according to Christie.

He and van Koeverden are now lobbying to adjust the AAP for inflation every three years.

“We really want to make sure the amount an athlete can make is truly sustainable for them to live,” Christie said.

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The Canadian government, and by extension the Canadian taxpayer, is the largest investor in high-performance sport at about $200 million annually.

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Own The Podium makes funding recommendations directing $70 million in targeted excellence money – about $6 million comes from the COC – to sports federations whose athletes demonstrate medal potential.

The AAP has provided more than $512 million for 15,000 athletes over 40 years, according to the Department of Canadian Heritage.

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