On shaky ground: New funding structure leaves Sport North's future uncertain

Big changes are set for the way sport program funding is handled in the Northwest Territories, as the territorial government takes over funding of sport organizations from Sport North.

'It wasn’t entirely clear what the rationale was for the structural change,' says Sport North vice president

Team NWT gets fired up for the 2014 Arctic Winter Games in Fairbanks, Alaska. Even with the changes to funding, the territory's Arctic Winter Games and Canada Games teams will still be organized by Sport North. (submitted by Sport North)

Big changes are set for the way sport program funding is handled in the Northwest Territories.

The Government of the Northwest Territories Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) will be taking over funding of sport organizations in the territory beginning April 1, 2017. The Sport North Federation had the responsibility until that was changed last month. 

The changes mean Sport North will receive a million dollars less in administrative and program funding next fiscal year. 

Funding for sport and recreation in the territory comes from lottery proceeds distributed through the Sport and Recreation Council, a subsidiary arm of MACA, to Sport North. Sport North currently distributes those funds to 32 sport organizations throughout the territory.

'It's been a little frustrating'

Ian Legaree, MACA's director of sport, recreation and youth, said there are several reasons for the change.

Legaree said his department was told by the Canada Revenue Agency that the way they were running the lottery program — the Sport and Recreation Council — could see its lottery funds taxable. This will result in MACA taking over responsibility for the lottery in the near future. 

That same year, they hired consulting firm the Sutcliffe Group to conduct a review of sport and recreation programs for the territory.

The Sutcliffe Report, released this past winter, recommended shifting sport program funding from Sport North to MACA. In August, the Minister announced that MACA will accept all of the report's recommendations related to organizational funding flow.

Ryan Fequet, Sport North's vice president, says that the GNWT didn't make it clear to the organization what the rationale was for changing the funding process. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)
Ryan Fequet, Sport North's vice president, said that change to the territory's funding structure was something that the sports and recreation sector has been asking for for many years. But he envisioned changes directed towards developing a collaborative sports strategy for the territory — something that is still lacking. 

"It's been a little frustrating even being involved in the process," said Fequet. "It wasn't entirely clear what the rationale was for the structural change for removing Sport North as the funding agent for its membership."

Fequet said the Federation was notified about the Sutcliffe report this past February, and has been in discussions with its membership and MACA about the recommendations. However, he said the Federation and its members were caught off-guard when notified of the changes.   

Changes designed to 'help communities': GNWT

Legaree said the rationale for the changes was twofold.

One reason was to cut down on paperwork. Currently, Both MACA and Sport North provide funding to territorial sport organizations, and require separate applications. 

Under the new regime, sport organizations will be expected to file one application to the department.

Secondly, Legaree said that as a department, MACA has a mandate to work directly with community governments and provide as much support as they can. 

Legaree said staff from the Sport and Recreation Council will eventually join MACA, freeing up $600,000 in administrative costs. That money will then be added to the sport program fund. 

"Ultimately, we decided to bring the SRC into the department so we could help communities and [sports organizations] better connect and provide better support programming," he said.

One thing missing in MACA's new arrangement is an appeal process, something built into Sport North's funding framework.

However, Legaree says that all funding proposals from sports groups will be approved in the first round of funding — applications are due November 1 — allowing time for the government to develop an appeals process before the next round.

What's next for Sport North?

Removing the funding responsibility from Sport North has left the organization's future hazy, Fequet admitted. 

"By removing Sport North as the funding agent to its membership, MACA is ultimately limiting the ability of Sport North to influence healthy and vibrant communities," he said.
Legaree says he still expects Sport North to play an 'important' role in the territory's sport structure, despite the loss of responsibility when it comes to distributing TSO funding. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

Legaree said that he expects that Sport North will continue to provide services and support to sport organizations. 

"I fully expect they will apply to provide services to TSOs and coaching, and kids sports, and different events like that.  So their role will still be important," said Legaree. "They also manage Team NWT for Arctic Winter Games and Canada Games. 

"So they have a big duty in that area, and I foresee them being a vibrant part of the sport system for a long time to come."   


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that MACA took over responsibility for the lottery in 2015. In fact, it is in the process of doing so. The original story also said that MACA had accepted all of the Sutcliffe Report's recommendations. In fact, the Minister accepted all of the recommendations related to organizational funding flow.
    Sep 22, 2016 11:20 AM CT