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Lessons in Socratic irony

By G.D. Maxwell Faster, Higher, More contentious than an ethnic joke at a Brotherhood convention. If this is 2002, the Olympics must be on the agenda. This is the year the ghostly visage of Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic bid begins to show its shape.

By G.D. Maxwell

Faster, Higher, More contentious than an ethnic joke at a Brotherhood convention. If this is 2002, the Olympics must be on the agenda. This is the year the ghostly visage of Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic bid begins to show its shape. This is the year the long awaited public consultation finally takes place. This is the year we get an early glimpse of who the winners and losers are likely to be. This is the year Whistler council rolls the dice and hopes the soporific electorate doesn’t turn November’s election into a crapshoot on how they’ve handled the issue so far.

Let the games begin.

Unlike the other contentious issues this town grapples with on a seemingly endless basis – affordability, sustainability, growth limits, to name three of the more interesting ones – you can’t sleep through this one. Apathy is not an option. If the bid’s going to be successful, it’s going to take a huge commitment. The reality of the Games in 2010 is going to touch every life in the valley for years before and forever after. If the bid’s going to be thwarted, it likewise is going to take the concerted efforts of everyone who honestly believes it’s a bad idea that should have been stillborn. "None of the above" isn’t an option this time around.

That’s not to say this is the day you have to choose which side you’re on. I’m not even sure how anyone could have made a firm decision about whether they’re for or against, given the vacuum of information we’ve had to consider.

Since this is a topic that’s likely to keep creeping onto this page, I might as well show my own cards up front. I’m skeptical – whoa, there’s a shocking revelation – but open to persuasive arguments. Whenever I’m skeptical about a tough subject, I like to visit with one of my old teachers, have a spirited exchange of questions and hopefully cast new light into dark corners.

Max: So, who benefits from the Olympics?

Socrates: The highest level answer is, Whistler benefits. The Olympics will bring world-wide exposure, tourists into the next millennium, instant name recognition. 62 per cent of the world’s population watched some part of the Sydney Olympics and they weren’t even in the right hemisphere.

Max: Okay, let’s assume for a moment Whistler needs the exposure, an assumption we’ll probably come back to later. The fact is, these aren’t the Whistler Olympics; they’re going to be the Vancouver Olympics. They will forever be known as the Vancouver Olympics. Who’s going to remember Whistler is where the skiing events took place? Know what I mean? For example, how many of the skiing venues can you name at the Salt Lake City Olympics?

Socrates: That’s not a fair question, it hasn’t taken place yet.

Max: Okay, I’ll ask you again in June. But let’s examine the broader implications of this name thing. I sort of feel like I’ve been seduced by a sensitive, new-age guy who kept telling me that after we were married I could hyphenate my last name with his, but now that we’re getting down to short strokes, I find out my name is going to vanish completely in the merger. How come this hasn’t come up before? How come it came up right before Christmas when it was likely to get lost in the whole peace on earth goodwill toward men spirit of the holidays?

Socrates: Perhaps the officers of the Bid Corp weren’t aware of that detail.

Max: Gotta tell you, Soc, that doesn’t give me a very good feeling. What else don’t they know? Seems like that’s a pretty basic detail.

Socrates: Okay, maybe they did know but were waiting for the right time to tell you.

Max: Hmmm, rather sneaky and duplicitous, don’t you think?

Socrates: Are you suggesting ulterior motives?

Max: Let’s deal with ulterior motives later. What I’m suggesting is the horns of a dilemma. Either they knew and weren’t telling or they didn’t know and should have. Since the former implies dark, almost sinister motives, I’m willing to go with the latter and simply worry about whether they know what they’re doing when it comes to other aspects of the bid.

Socrates: But these are honourable and learned men, captains of industry, shining beacons of philanthropy. Can you even begin to think they’re unqualified for the job?

Max: Did you notice the new numbers for the bid, Soc? I mean, we’re just talking about a bid here, right, not the show itself. It was going to cost $28 million, admittedly Canadian dollars, but a fair chunk of change by any standards, just to ready the bid and put something aside for the Legacies Now program. Well, suddenly, that figure has ballooned to $34 million. Since the learned men first put pencil to paper, their budget’s gone up over 20 per cent. I am not comforted.

Socrates: These things can’t be known for certain. You expect certainty in an uncertain world. Besides, the Bid Corp is raising their own funding. Why worry?

Max: Well, for starters, they’re raising a pretty big share of it from the public trough. What were the numbers, $9.1 mil from the feds, a like amount from the province and Crown corporations. So that’s just over half out of your pockets and mine.

Socrates: Yours. I’m dead.

Max: Oh yeah, I forgot. That’s a lot of dough for a province that can’t pay its teachers, can’t provide adequate health care, can’t maintain its basic infrastructure and really doesn’t have much vision about the future.

Socrates: But isn’t the Olympics a vision of the future? Even without Whistler’s name on it, won’t the exposure benefit Whistler in the long run?

Max: Maybe it will and maybe it won’t. Whistler didn’t get to where it is on the world’s radar screen because of some big, splashy geopolitical, made-for-TV event. It got to be a destination resort by hard work, smart marketing, sound investment in infrastructure, good management, vision and, of course, a great product. Aren’t those the strategies that will keep it great in the future? Doesn’t it make more sense to rely on those rather than pinning our hopes on a one-shot deal?

Socrates: Of course, all those things will be necessary in the future. But the Olympics will boost Whistler in the consciousness of the fabled Europeans who haven’t heard about it.

Max: I suspect there are as many Vietnamese as Europeans who haven’t heard of Whistler. But you can bet if any of them are actually planning a ski trip to North America, our name will come up for consideration.

Socrates: But what about all the other benefits the Olympics will bring?

Max: Guess we’ll have to discuss them another time. Wanna get a beer?

Socrates: I’m an Ouzo man.