Olympic kayak champion Adam van Koeverden on his move into politics
A Q&A with the Oakville paddler set to run for the Liberal Party in 2020
I believe everyone deserves great representation, true local advocacy and someone to give them a voice in Ottawa. I found myself complaining about the current state of politics, the provincial government in Ontario, the rise of populism and considered my role in being part of a solution rather than the complaining chorus on social media. After the Rio Olympics I did a bunch of reading and wrote MLK's famous quote in my book. I'm paraphrasing, but it's regarding life's most persistent and urgent question - what are you doing for others?
While on the national kayak team, when I wasn't competing I was representing charities like WaterAID and Right To Play as an athlete ambassador both in the media and in the field (Africa and the Middle East), and also in fundraising and government relations capacities. I was also Chair of the Canadian Olympic Committee's Athletes Commission, where we achieved a milestone increase in Sport Canada funding for athletes. The first in 15 years.
I was working at Deloitte last summer. As I reflected back upon on what work I was most proud of, and considered what I wanted to achieve over the next 20 years, I realized that public service was a good fit for my goals and strengths. So I quit my job and built a team. I've been campaigning full-time since October.
How does your competitive success translate to the political realm?
I know that you don't get anywhere without hope and hard work. I'm new at politics, as I once was in my sport, so I also have the humility to know that I have a lot to learn and a long way to go. I used to take 10,000 strokes a day, and now I knock on a couple hundred doors every day in Milton. It's repetitive, and cold - a lot like paddling in Canada. So it's familiar, but still represents a new challenge for me which has been a great experience.
You've chosen to run in a riding occupied by a well-known Conservative MP. Meaning, you will be challenged straight away, but also means you are confident you can win. Why?
Well I've chosen to run at home. I grew up in north Oakville, and starting voting in that riding when I was 18. That riding of Halton was re-named Milton in 2015 and the boundary moved north by a few kms, leaving my family's home just outside the riding, in a new one called Oakville-North Burlington. Halton has always been home to me. I've lived in Oakville and Burlington, did all of my ski and snowboard lessons, xc running and mountain biking at Kelso and Glen Eden. Every Sunday my long run was from our house to the Milton sign and back, 14km roundtrip. Milton is where we spent our weekends, it's where we got our pumpkins and Christmas trees, we shopped at the greenhouses and the farmer's markets often. Milton has changed a lot since then. It's not a farming community anymore. It's very cosmopolitan and international.
I'm not entering politics because I want something easy to do. I want to do good work and make a difference for my community, and that challenge is well worth the effort. I've never entered a race I didn't think I could win, unless we're talking about a charity 5km. This is not a charity 5km.
You obviously love the outdoors, kayaking here on Lake Ontario, in Algonquin, have long expressed opinions on environmental issues. But you've chosen a party that has talked the talk, but hasn't necessarily walked the walk, especially regarding climate change, I mean they did buy an oil pipeline. Tell me your thoughts regarding the choice of party and how it fits your own ideals.
I think the Liberal government's current record on the environment is undeniably strong. They're the first government to appoint a Minister of Climate Change. They've protected more terrestrial, marine and coastal wildlife areas than any previous government. They've put a price on pollution and demand that the provinces have a climate plan. They've made unprecedented investments into green and renewable technology and jobs. I am certainly an environmentalist, and I love going to Algonquin Park — but I am also honest about how I get there. I drive a car. It's a hybrid, and gets good gas mileage, but I drive. I also heat my house with natural gas and eat avocados flown up from Mexico. I believe we need to get off oil, but I also know it will take time. Due process is an important factor in progress, and there is a balance to strike between our environmental ambitions and economic reality. Alberta is leading the way in green energy, and in time, with further investment, we will achieve our goals on both sides of the equation.
With respect to the pipeline, it's an asset, not a liability. There was just another train derailment in BC, and the experts say that pipelines are the safest way to get resources to international markets. Preventing oil spills needs to be an environmental priority just as much as having a long term plan to diversify our energy portfolio.
What are your priorities when it comes to other issues you'd like to tackle?
I believe politics could use a little sportsmanship. I trained with my competitors because we had the same goals, and winning was easier when we joined forces. I joined the party in the middle because I genuinely want to work with everyone. There are good ideas on both sides of the political spectrum, and as a Liberal, I think I’m well positioned to collaborate.
I believe in healthy and active living for all. There should be no barriers between kids and their dreams, whether it’s sport or something else they’re excited about.
Like you, I believe strongly in environmental stewardship, and using science and evidence to make important decisions regarding our collective future.
I believe in high quality education, and I fear for Ontario’s future if the Ford government continues to make cuts to essential programs and infrastructure in our schools, colleges and universities.
I believe in progress. We move faster and farther when we paddle in unison, and I want to help Canadians continue to win.
Now, how often are you paddling these days? I mean, given it’s winter, but also in your post-competition life.
I'm not paddling at all. I'm grateful to the Inuit for the invention, but I don't kayak in the winter. I've gone from training everyday to exercising a few times a week. I love being outside with my dog and running around, and I'm learning about the difference between exercise and training, despite having a degree in exercise science - I'm no expert.
Where is your favourite place to kayak and why?
This past summer I spent a few weeks on a ship between Baffin Island, Nunavut and Greenland. It was part of a program called Students On Ice. I was on board as a volunteer youth educator and kayak instructor. The kids on board were from all around the world, but many were from northern communities, of Inuit heritage. Many had never been in a kayak before, and it was honestly one of the coolest things in my life to see them connect with a mode of transportation that meant so much to their ancestors. Paddling with the great great grandkids of the people who invented the boat I love so much, in the region where it was invented... that takes the top spot.
The Toronto waterfront on a flat, hot day is also pretty nice. That Humber river bridge is great. Nothing like an iceberg though.
Last but not least, do you have a fondest memory from your competitive career representing Canada?
Carrying the flag into the Bird's Nest Stadium for Canada at the 2008 Summer Olympic Opening Ceremonies with 280 of my friends and teammates. We all sang O Canada together, and it was a very nice time. I'll never forget that.