Special Olympics CEO hopes House of Commons honour garners extra funding

There were smiles, high fives and a whole lot of clanging of medals as more than 100 members of Canada's Special Olympics national team filed into the House of Commons for a special ceremony Wednesday.

It has become a tradition for MPs to congratulate Canadian Olympians in person on the floor of the House of Commons but it was the first time Special Olympics Canada athletes have been recognized this way.

The team of 108 athletes brought home 121 medals from the Special Olympics world games in Austria last March.

MPs chanted and clapped and even launched into an impromptu singing of O Canada as the athletes stood before them.

Special Olympics Canada CEO Sharon Bollenbach said it was a ``historic'' day to have the team honoured in such a way, but was also hoping it serves as a reminder to the government when it comes to making budget decisions.

Bollenbach is seeking an extension of incremental funding granted to Special Olympics Canada in 2014 which expires at the end of March.

The former government gave the organization $10.8 million over four years on top of its regular $2.8 million in annual funding. Bollenbach has requested $14 million over the next four years.

Bollenbach said since 2014, athlete registrations have increased by 19 per cent and volunteer participation is up 20 per cent.

``We are offering more programs in more communities and more athletes are experiencing the transformative power and joy of sport,'' Bollenbach said, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood to her side at a reception following the ceremony.

In his speech, Trudeau did not directly address the funding request. The Special Olympics ``attest to the life changing power of sport, something all Canadians should have the opportunity to experience,'' he said.

Speed skater Evan James, from Spruce Grove, Alta., said the standing ovation in the House of Commons was ``one of those big big moments.''

``Like just as good as representing the country on the world stage and wearing the maple leaf on our uniforms,'' he said, his gold and silver medals hanging around his neck. ``It just means so much.''