OTTAWA -- The second day of testimony in front of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage promised to be action-packed, with appearances by current and former executives of Hockey Canada, all three commissioners of Canada's major junior leagues as well as the president of the Canadian Hockey League.
Once again, plenty was learned on Wednesday.
Here are the main takeaways:
SCOTT SMITH IS NOT STEPPING DOWN
Scott Smith, who took over the leadership of Hockey Canada from the now-retired CEO Tom Renney on July 1, faced steady and often pointed calls by members of all four parties to resign.
Smith, 55, has been with Hockey Canada since 1995. In that time, he has been chief operating officer, president and now CEO.
Smith, in his opening statement and throughout the session, steadfastly maintained that he felt he was the leader to make the changes Hockey Canada needs to improve.
“I know you have questions about the leadership of Hockey Canada, about my leadership," Smith said in his opening statement. "You want answers and you want to see real action taken to end the culture of silence that allows toxic behavior and sexism to fester in corners of our game. I do too. You have asked for transparency. You've asked for accountability. You've asked for Hockey Canada to change. I'm here to lead that change.”
That didn't seem to go over well with the committee members. The NDP's Peter Julian, Conservatives' John Nater, Bloc Quebecois' Sebastien Lemire and Liberals' Anthony Housefather all directly called, during their allotted question time, for change.
“Frankly, Mr. Smith, we agree, I'm sure we agree, that for the good (of) hockey, for the good of the countless volunteers across this country, the good work that countless blameless people are doing in the sport of hockey, I strongly believe there needs to be new leadership within Hockey Canada," Nater said. "Will you do that? Will you step down for new leadership to take over?”
To which Smith responded: “I believe I said in my opening statement that I'm prepared to take on this responsibility for change with our game. I believe I've got the experience to do it. Should our board or the governance review that we've outlined in our action plan suggest that I'm not the person, then I'm prepared to accept that.”
Added Julian: "I feel, like many members of the Canadian public, that I've lost confidence in Hockey Canada, we have lost confidence in Hockey Canada, and I think it is time for new leadership."
"I'd like to add my name to the voices of those who say that despite your seeming sincerity, it seems that you're really not able to bring about the necessary changes in the structure of Hockey Canada,” Lemire added, in French.
A subset of what we learned, speaking to organizational governance and efficiencies, is that Hockey Canada does not take minutes for its in camera, or private, meetings, which drew the ire of the committee (which takes minutes of its in camera meetings). This was particularly relevant because Smith said settlement discussions occurred in camera.
“In my experience, as a general counsel of a multinational, you would normally have board minutes that would state someone being authorized on behalf of Hockey Canada to sign the settlement agreement and the board authorizing a settlement agreement," Housefather said during the hearing. "You've now stated that the board authorized the maximum amount (of the settlement)? Where is that minuted? Any board of directors meeting?
“So, basically, according to Hockey Canada's practices, you can never prove in the future whether they did or did not do what you said. I can only say you need better legal advice and you need better lawyers. If that is your practice, sir.”
Further to that, Housefather brought forth pointed questions about why Hockey Canada settled on behalf of the players it did not know the identities of.
"They're either not being truthful or their decisions are just baffling," Housefather told Sportsnet afterward from Spain. "I've never heard of this," added Housefather, who holds two law degrees from McGill.
What it means: The Canadian government has limited powers to actually change Hockey Canada's leadership, but it can, conceivably, work on influencing the Hockey Canada board of directors, to which Smith reports. An ongoing governance review by Hockey Canada could spur that change.
But should new leadership be brought in, given the tenor of the statement issued by members of the women's program earlier in the week, there is speculation a woman could take over Hockey Canada. One MP said that might not be enough, however.
"I think it goes beyond that," Julian told Sportsnet on Tuesday. "I think what we've seen from Hockey Canada is a complete lack of responsibility. Changing one person isn't as important as completely changing the culture of Hockey Canada."
Housefather said that any potential change in leadership has to come from Hockey Canada's board of directors and membership.
"Some very good people have made some very bad decisions, and unfortunately they've lost the trust of Canadians," he said of the current executives.
WORLD JUNIORS IN EDMONTON WILL INCLUDE CANADA
One of the major takeaways for hockey fans in the country came in a scrum after the first session of the hearings, when Smith reiterated, in a response to a Sportsnet question, that Canada would participate in the upcoming 2022 World Junior Championship, to be held Aug. 9-20 in Edmonton. Smith said Hockey Canada wanted to hold the tournament for the players, especially after the tournament was postponed from the usual December-January window because of rising COVID-19 infections.
What it means: Sure, the tournament will go ahead with the host country included, but it will surely continue under a cloud. Unless they are shielded from it, participating players, especially from Canada, figure to be asked about Hockey Canada and the investigation.
HOCKEY CANADA HAS PAID OUT $7.6M IN SEXUAL ASSAULT CLAIMS
Hockey Canada executives faced several questions from committee members about the use of funds set aside to handle sexual assault claims. One such fund, the National Equity Fund, drew particular attention.
Hockey Canada chief financial officer Brian Cairo, a late addition to the invitees list, spoke to questions about the fund.
“Out of the National Equity Fund, nine settlement payments have been made, totaling $7.6 million; $6.8 million of that is Graham James-related incidents," Cairo said. "And on insured settled claims, (there were) 12 in nature, for a total of $1.3 million. One perpetrator has created four of those incidents and accounts for $1 million of those.” These incidents date back to 1989.
What it means: Although it sounds suspect, and the news of "slush" funds to cover sexual assault claims caused outrage, it apparently isn't all that unusual. During his session in front of the committee after the high-profile session involving the hockey executives, Barry Lorenzetti, founder, president and CEO of Hockey Canada insurance broker BFL Canada, testified that it was "prudent risk management" to have a reserve fund for sexual assault. He added that without such a fund, Hockey Canada might have had to increase registration fees to cover the cost of settlements.
MORE HEARINGS WILL BE HELD
Parliament is expected to resume in September, and some MPs on the Heritage committee believe that is when hearings will continue. A date has yet to be scheduled by committee chair Hedy Fry to discuss next steps, including when hearings would resume, but Parliament is not finished with this matter by a long shot.
What it means: More testimony by Hockey Canada officials and AIG, Hockey Canada's insurer, are ahead. Also expect to see appearances by Hockey Canada board members, who to this point have not been called to testify. Saint-Alphonse-Rodriguez, Que., lawyer Michael Brind'Amour is the chair of the board.