Physical activity policies

Sport and recreation policies in Canada

Sport and recreation interventions include formal, organized, competitive sport along with informal, social, freely accessible opportunities.1

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Participation in sport and recreation has been linked to both social and health benefits.

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Sport and recreation require urban planners, governments, and policymakers to ensure equitable access to sport and recreation facilities and programming.

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Access to indoor and outdoor recreation facilities and no-cost community physical activity classes and programs may be associated with increased physical activity.

school iconInstitutional uses, which include schools and recreation centres, need to appropriately fit with the character of the neighbourhood. Large, developed institutional sites often discourage walking and other forms of active transportation by disrupting street networks.

By focusing on shared use of streets, reduced parking, densely populated buildings, and the integration of buildings with the street environment, cities can encourage active transportation and create healthier neighbourhoods.

Policy at the federal level 

The Physical Activity and Sport Act outlines the federal government’s commitments to supporting sport and recreation, while A Common Vision for increasing physical activity and reducing sedentary living in Canada: Let’s Get Moving and the Canadian Sport Policy 2012 provide strategic direction and guidance for provincial, territorial and municipal governments working to improve  recreational or competitive sports opportunities.

Sport Canada’s Policy on Aboriginal Peoples’ Participation in Sport and Actively Engaged: A Policy on Sport for Women and Girls build on the federal government’s commitment to facilitate the participation of under-represented groups in Canadian sport.

selfie of friends at basketball court, one friend in wheelchair

Provincial/territorial sport and recreation policy analysis

The degree of policy adoption is MEDIUM – some, but not all jurisdictions have adopted evidence-informed policy action, and/or the breadth of the policy action is incomplete. This rating is expected as most provinces and territories have adopted this type of policy action, but there is variability in comprehensiveness across jurisdictions. Further, many policies take the shape of providing a financial incentive to governments, organizations, or individuals versus having a sole focus on active transportation.

  • Policies related to Sport and Recreation exist across all provinces and territories but vary in comprehensiveness and potential for impact.
  • Many provinces and territories do not have a comprehensive suite of policy actions, which would optimize impact on physical activity at the population level.
  • Several provinces and territories provide a financial incentive to organizations or governing bodies to develop sport and recreation opportunities for communities:
    • Yukon, British Columbia, Quebec and Nova Scotia have funds or grants specifically to encourage physical activity, recreation or sport.
    • Alberta provides a tax exemption to eligible sport or recreation community organizations.
    • Manitoba has funding to support eligible schools invest in physical activity programming.
    • Ontario has committed to providing recreational, sports and fitness resources to municipalities and to provincial recreational and sports organizations.
  • Several provinces and territories provide a financial incentive to individuals or families who partake in physical activity, sport, or recreation programs:
  • Several provinces and territories have action plans or strategies that outline priorities and goals related to sport and recreation. A handful of provinces and territories have policies that are focused on increasing physical activity in the population through sport and recreation:
    • Quebec’s Policy on Physical Activity, Sport and Recreation provides a comprehensive vision to increasing physical activity by working to make physical activity more accessible and enjoyable for all communities and age groups.
    • Similarly, the Active Alberta policy takes a holistic approach to improving the health and wellness of the population by committing to supporting recreation, active living and sport.

Municipal sport and recreation policy analysis

The degree of policy adoption is MEDIUM – some, but not all jurisdictions have adopted evidence-informed policy action, and/or the breadth of the policy action is incomplete. This rating is expected as most of the scanned municipalities have adopted this type of policy action, but there is variability in comprehensiveness across jurisdictions. Further, many policies take the shape of providing a financial incentive versus having a sole focus on active transportation. As such, many of these examples have been excluded.

  • Policies related to Sport and Recreation exist across 24 of 31 (77%) included municipalities.
  • Many municipalities have standalone sport and recreation policies including Calgary’s and Quebec City’s sport policy, Edmonton’s  aquatics policy, London’s and Ottawa’s greenspace policy, Hamilton’s and Edmonton’s trail plan, Montreal’s family policy, and Brandon’s and Surrey’s community facilities plans. Many of these policies have a specificity to them which may include trail development or creating outdoor sports infrastructure such as soccer fields, pools, skateboard parks, and tennis courts.
  • Policies which are intentional with an overt focus on sport and recreation allow for a greater exploration of causes, need, implementation considerations, and innovative strategies, and are seen as a strong approach to encouraging physical activity. This approach could be considered across all municipalities. 
  • Sport and recreation policies take a variety of alternate forms including being embedded within community/neighbourhood plans such as Whitehorse and Yellowknife, city centre plans including Surrey and Saint John’s, parks and recreation frameworks including Victoria and Edmonton, facility construction policies such as Brandon, and finally land planning documents including Victoria and Brandon 
  • Sport and recreation concepts are referenced within some zoning bylaws, municipal acts, and development regulations, but are typically not the primary focus or intention of such policies.
  • Municipalities which do not have a sport and recreation policy consist of either large and/or rural geographic regions or small populated regions which may point to a low need among residents or few community resources.
  • Many smaller municipalities lack policy directives or funding to create infrastructure for sport and recreation opportunities (e.g. soccer fields, recreation centres, etc.) which may put them at risk for benefitting from long-term positive impacts. The ability to build needed infrastructure to support both formal and informal sport activities may be a more permanent strategy to encourage longer-term sport participation.


Many organized sports teams, sports clubs, and recreational facilities including community pools, ice pads, gyms and fitness centres ceased to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interestingly, there was a reported increase in the use of outdoor trails, cycling paths, and open spaces during this same period. More research is needed to determine the long-term effects of the evolving pandemic on sport and recreation, physical activity, and cancer rates.

Regional/municipal sport and recreation policies in Canada

Type of policy Examples from included municipalities
Trail and pathway Whitehorse; Hamilton; Brampton; Fredericton; Edmonton
Community/neighbourhood/regional Whitehorse; Yellowknife; Surrey; Vancouver; Victoria; Calgary; Edmonton; Regina; Saskatoon; Winnipeg; London; Ottawa; Brampton; Toronto; Fredericton; Moncton; Saint John’s; Halifax; Charlottetown; Summerside
Greenspace Ottawa; Brandon; Surrey; Hamilton; London
Sport Calgary; Québec
Family Montréal
Aquatics Edmonton
Community facilities Brandon; Surrey
Parks and recreation Victoria; Edmonton; Surrey; Brandon; London; Brampton; Mississauga
Facilities construction Brandon; Québec City; Longueuil
Land planning Victoria; Brandon; Hamilton; Fredericton; Charlottetown

Table presents links to relevant policies across 31 included municipalities. This table is for educational and reference purposes only and is not meant to be an exhaustive summary of all active policies in Canada.

  • 1 - International Society for Physical Activity and Health. 2021. Resources.