Jolene de Vries wins Fitness Leadership Award

Sierra D'Souza Butts/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/The World-Spectator. Anytime Fitness Owner Jolene de Vries (left) was awarded the 2023 Canadian Fitness Industry Leadership Award by Sara Hodson, President of Fitness Industry Council of Canada (FIC), at the Canfitpro Global Conference and Tradeshow on Aug. 18. Gym owner receives leadership award for her contribution of preventing the proposed provincial sales tax for gyms and fitness centres.

Sierra D’Souza Butts, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The World-Spectator

On Aug. 18, Jolene de Vries was awarded the Canadian Fitness Industry Leadership Award—the Fitness Industry Council of Canada’s (FIC) most prestigious award­­——in recognition for her contribution of preventing the proposed provincial sales tax for gyms and fitness centres.

de Vries also won the award for her efforts on showcasing why gyms should be recognized as essential services’, during the pandemic.  

“During Covid, we were very vocal trying to get the government to say gyms are part of healthcare and open them back up,” said de Vries.

“Also, to reduce the restrictions that we had because we actually didn’t have our last restriction lifted until last June, for gyms.

“Then with that last gym restriction lifting, they wanted to add tax when gyms had been permanently closed and we were all trying to still recover.”

Every year the award is given to a FIC member who has, throughout the years, proven to be an industry leader while operating a fitness facility. 

de Vries is the owner of the Anytime Fitness in Yorkton, Esterhazy, and the soon to be built location in Moosomin.

She spoke about the actions she took to help get the proposed PST on gyms removed.

“We got on the media, we talked to many of our local representatives in government,” said de Vries.

“We went to the legislature which helped us get more into the media. They went forward with the tax on the entertainment end, but did not on the fitness end.

“That was fantastic. It was a big win because the concern was if that tax went through in Saskatchewan, then it would end up going across the board, then usually other provinces follow. If they added it to us then Alberta might be next, then B.C., and so on.”

Once the Government of Saskatchewan announced that PST would not be added to fitness centres, de Vries was happy to know her contributions made the change possible. 

“We were pretty ecstatic. It was a big win,” she said.

“People think ‘oh well it’s only six per cent,’ but when your industry has been decimated and we’re trying to recover, six per cent could be someone cancelling their membership because of the costs. Everyone was dealing with more costs, they still are with inflation going up.

“It could mean people not buying a membership to the gym, or maybe not doing personal training. Six per cent is significant in our businesses.”

Importance of gyms being an essential service

de Vries explained why she, and others who are a part of FIC, felt it was important to advocate for fitness centres being an essential service.

“We saw over the last couple of years that the government was leaving liquor stores open, they were leaving cannabis stores open, and in Saskatchewan we weren’t as affected as other provinces, but we completely closed (gyms) for three months, and then were severely restricted after that,” said de Vries. 

“We help with people’s health, whether it’s mental health, whether it’s their physical health, problems with diabetes, blood pressure, we see bipolar disorder, all of those which is controlled by going to a gym and doing physical activity.

“When we were shut down, we saw mental health problems starting to pop up again, where people were very well controlled (before), we saw people who had very well controlled diabetes starting to have issues again, so we left the other services open because they felt they couldn’t handle the draw on the medical system if they had closed the liquor stores and closed the cannabis shops, but didn’t feel the same way about us (gyms).”

“That’s our next fight, is to get them to recognize we are a part of healthcare.”

Proud to be a leader in the fitness industry 

Aside from being the Saskatchewan representative for the Fitness Industry Council of Canada, de Vries is also the owner of three Anytime Fitness locations in the province with her husband.

She spoke about what inspired her to join FIC.

“During Covid when we had the shutdown, I decided to sort of rally the gyms together to hopefully get our doors back open, and through that, we found out there was already a council in Canada, the Fitness Industry Council,” said de Vries.

“I ended up joining that as the Saskatchewan Lead. The nice thing about FIC is it’s one organization across the country, and we’re all moving in the same direction. 

“We’ve been able to get our voice at the table now politically, federally, provincially, and we’re starting to make some headway now.”

She was asked how it feels to be the representative for Saskatchewan.

“It was tough during Covid, but it’s been worth it. We’re making some headway, and I do believe in the next couple of years we’ll be getting some more recognition on the healthcare front.”

de Vries spoke about some of the other goals FIC has planned for the future. 

“I have another letter drafted to the government,” she said.

“There’s a couple things happening in Alberta and in B.C. that are pretty exciting, that FIC has been able to get the government to take the next steps forward on.

“We’re going to be approaching our provincial government on those same fronts, to potentially do some tests, whether it’s with a group of nurses or giving residents of Saskatchewan a wellness credit or tax credit. We’ll be pushing on that front.”