Weston tables bill for national fitness day

WEST Vancouver's representative in Ottawa is calling for the creation of a new day to celebrate fitness, in a bid to turn around the country's decadeslong slide into inactivity.

West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country MP John Weston tabled a private member's bill on Monday that would declare the first Saturday in June "National Health and Fitness Day." The event would highlight the benefits of physical activity and encourage municipal governments to invite the public into recreation centres free of charge.

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"My hope is that we can get all local governments in Canada doing this together to turn the trend around and make this the fittest, healthiest country on earth," said Weston in a phone interview.

Weston has already garnered pledges from all 12 municipalities in his riding, he said. Ottawa has also voiced support now, and so has a town in New Brunswick.

"It's the local governments who really have the key to doing this," he said. "It needs to be kind of a grassroots movement; it can't be something that's mandated by government alone."

The move is important in light of the steady stream of statistics that point to a continuing decline in Canadians' health, said Weston.

Just last week, Statistics Canada released a study that concluded 31.5 per cent of Canadians between five and 17 are overweight or obese. The percentage of Canadian adults who participate in sports, meanwhile, has seen a steep decline, with just 28 per cent taking part in 2005 compared to 45 per cent back in 1992.

"The rising tide of health-related problems like diabetes and cardiovascular issues relates almost directly to inactivity," he said.

Although private members' bills have a tendency to die on the vine, Weston is hopeful his will be one of the exceptions. It has already been endorsed by members of the opposing parties, he noted, including the Green Party's Elizabeth May, Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan and New Democrat MP Peter Stoffer.

Speaking to other media, critics of the bill have voiced skepticism, saying that simply labelling a day "Health and Fitness Day" will do little to change lifestyles. The federal government should take stronger measures, they said, such as regulating unhealthy ingredients and creating tax schemes to encourage healthy food choices.

Weston declined to voice an opinion on such strategies, but he conceded his plan would not turn the tide by itself.

"The only criticism I can see of the bill is that it doesn't make everyone healthy and fit all on its own. I agree with that; there are many other thing we have to do," he said. "But hopefully this is one thing where I can get everyone working together."

In April 2010, Weston tabled a private members bill aimed at curbing the manufacture of crystal meth, which passed the Commons unanimously. Bill C475, as it was called, amended Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to make it illegal to possess, produce, sell or import chemicals with the knowledge they will be used to create street drugs.

Weston will turn his attention next to a law relating to the safe disposal of pharmaceuticals.

jweldon@nsnews.com

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