Athletes from Canada march in during the closing ceremony in the Maracana stadium at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Aug. 21, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, David Goldman.

Athletes from Canada march in during the closing ceremony in the Maracana stadium at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Aug. 21, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, David Goldman.

Canada’s Olympians and Paralympians get a pay raise

This increase, of about 18 per cent, is the first since 2004.

A pay raise for Canada’s Olympians and Paralympians is rolling out with the Winter Games just weeks away.

Sports Minister Kent Hehr revealed details of the increased money going into the Athletes Assistance Program on Friday at WinSport, where many athletes train.

They receive monthly “carding” cheques from the AAP for living expenses and sport costs their federations don’t cover.

A senior card is now worth $1,765 a month, an increase of $265. Development card athletes get $1,060, which is a top-up of $160.

It’s the first increase since 2004.

“This is an 18-per-cent increase to what they were getting before,” Hehr said.

“This will allow them the freedom to go out and compete, the freedom for them to train, the freedom then to not worry about rent or food. For many of our athletes, they were getting to that critical point.”

About 1,900 athletes get carding money.

“It seems like not a lot but I know for athletes, that means you can make better choices at the grocery store,” Olympic champion wrestler Erica Wiebe said.

“You can not have to worry so much about where you’re driving and gas money. This is the everyday living and training expenses that athletes choose. That extra 18 per cent means the world to the high-performance athletes here in Canada.”

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Former luger Jeff Christie, who chairs the Canadian Olympic Committee’s athletes’ commission, and Olympic champion paddler Adam van Koeverden led the charge for the first raise in 13 years.

“I was an athlete the last time they raised it,” Christie said. “We went from $1,200 to $1,500 and I felt like I was the king.”

Tuition money has also jumped $500 to a maximum of $5,500 per year. Other grants such as child-care support come out of the AAP, which has a budget of $33 million for 2017-18.

The federal government committed in the March budget to pump an extra $5 million annually into the AAP.

Athletes didn’t know until Friday exactly how that would impact the dollar amount on their cheques as they didn’t receive a raise right away.

So they’re also due for a bonus. It was announced they’re eligible for retroactive pay on the increases for the 2017-18 fiscal year that started April 1.

The 2018 Winter Olympics open Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, followed by the Paralympic Games in March.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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