Kevin Light, far left, was a member of the Canadian men's eight rowing crew that won Olympic gold in Beijing. ((Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press))

With federal election day approaching, the country's political candidates are preparing to face the voting public.

First, though, they had to answer to Canada's elite athletes. And as expected, there were some tough questions on the issue of funding.

Representatives from the four national parties were on hand Saturday in Mississauga, Ont., to discuss their platforms on sport and physical activity with an audience of Canadian Olympians, Paralympians and national-team athletes.

The All-Party Sport Forum made up part of the 16th annual AthletesCAN Forum, a four-day convention organized by AthletesCAN, the association that represents Canada's national team athletes.

"The primary goal is to have a non-partisan platform in which each of the political parties can share their sport and physical activity plans," said Ian Bird, an official with Sport Matters, a advocacy group that works with the Canadian sporting community on affecting public policy.

About 100 athletes from 60 sports were expected to attend the convention, which also features workshops on issues like anti-doping measures, as well as demonstration sessions for local students.

But the centrepiece of the weekend was Saturday's forum, at which the federal cabinet minister for sport, Helena Guergis, represented the Conservative Party.

Also attending were Rodger Cuzner, the Liberal candidate in the Cape Breton-Canso riding in Nova Scotia; Liam McHugh-Russell, the NDP candidate in the Toronto riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore; and Grace Yogaretnam, the Green Party candidate in Mississauga-Brampton South.

The politicians exchanged ideas with an athlete delegation that included former world champion hurdler Perdita Felicien and rower Kevin Light, who won Olympic gold in Beijing as part of Canada's men's eight crew.

Veteran athletes need more money: Light

Light, from Vancouver, said he liked what he heard, but remained skeptical of whether promises would be kept after Oct. 14.

"It's good to hear what they're say," Light told "But you have to keep in mind that, just as my goal was to win the Olympics, their goal is to get elected."

Not surprisingly, one of the biggest concerns voiced was the amount of funding — or lack thereof — that the federal government commits to elite athletes.

Light is hoping that message got through.

"I don't see how the forum could make the funding any worse," he said. "I think it will have a positive effect."

Light, 29, said he receives a $1,500 monthly stipend from Sport Canada, typical for an athlete at his level of experience and performance. But he feels that's not enough to entice veteran athletes to remain dedicated to their sports.

Light figures $50,000-$100,000 would be an appropriate annual salary for elite competitors over the age of 30.

"What disappoints me is that once athletes have achieved gold-medal status at the Olympics, that funding doesn't increase," he said. "And when they get to having responsibilities like a marriage, children and a house, Canada loses those athletes because they can't afford [to continue competing]."

While Light realizes that the nosediving economy may make it tough for the federal government to increase the amount it doles out to athletes, he feels it's money well spent.

"Coming home after winning [gold in Beijing] and speaking to all the people we inspired, I think keeping athletes like that around is worth more than $1,500 a month."