For many in the media who cover federal politics, the words national and strategy, when used to modify a noun or verb and followed by a pitch for more federal spending, usually cause a rolling of the eyes and a dismissive shrug.
That’s because there have been many national strategy pitches made over the years, often with little consideration given to their real cost or benefits, that many good and important proposals now get short shrift.
A recent petition from Canada Bikes to the House of Commons, introduced by MP Gord Johns, calling for the development of a National Cycling Strategy, is an example of one such good idea that deserves real attention.
For starters, it serves as an opportunity to reflect on the state of health and fitness in Canada.
Canada is currently facing a crisis of physical inactivity.
Data from across Canada tells us that only 15 percent of adults and 7 percent of children and youth are meeting current physical activity guidelines – 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week for adults and 60 minutes per day for children and youth.
Created by past regional planning policies that encourage sprawl and the use of the private automobile, most Canadians feel that there is little time left in their days for exercise.
This is why a conversation about a National Cycling Strategy is so important – it challenges our outmoded assumptions about the role of transportation in our lives by introducing sustainable transportation with real health benefits.
By making Canada a more cycling-friendly nation, we will enable people to use cycling as a form of active transportation – allowing Canadians to use their time spent commuting as an opportunity for physical activity.
The average Canadian commutes a total 7.7km from home to work, for a round-trip total of 15.4km. With an average cycling speed of 20km per hour, commuting to work could result in 46 minutes of exercise per day.
This would mean that by cycling to work and back four days a week, the average Canadian could achieve the recommended weekly physical activity requirements.
The value of moving away from our current levels of inactivity go far beyond just the personal physical benefits – the estimated annual direct and indirect health care costs of physical inactivity in Canada were $6.8 billion in 2009.
If Canadians were to increase their level of activity by just 10 percent, our governments would save hundreds of millions of dollars that could be used elsewhere.
The implementation of a National Cycling Strategy would entail an increased investment in cycling infrastructure and education surrounding safe-cycling practices.
An investment of this kind is crucial to making Canada a more active and healthy country, as 66 percent of Canadians report safety concerns as one of the key reason for not cycling more.
In addition to making our communities healthier and more livable, there would be fewer cars on the road – reducing congestion, so people can get home to their families more quickly, while promoting environmental sustainability.
I recognize that initiatives like this require support from all levels of government; but the stakes are too high to ignore.
Children and youth who do not meet the activity guidelines are more likely to be overweight, have poorer bone health and mental health. Adults who do not meet the activity guidelines are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and colon and breast cancer.
This is why this recent petition is so important – it’s an opportunity to talk cycling and active living, and what it means for Canadians and for our country.
Seven years ago I was part of a group who launched an annual event called Bike Day on the Hill to start just that kind of conversation.
The event brings together Parliamentarians with members of the cycling community to discuss ways to get more Canadians on bikes and active and to showcase the benefits of active living, by holding a group bike ride starting on Parliament Hill.
This year the event falls on Tuesday, May 29th and we invite others who are interested in active living or in learning more about safe cycling to join us.
Members of the media who might be intrigued by the crowd of cyclists on the Hill be forewarned; you’ll hear words like national and cycling and strategy.
Nancy Greene Raine has been a Senator for British Columbia, is a Director of the National Health and Fitness Foundation, and an Olympic champion.
For more information, please visit: www.NHFDcan.ca