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Discovering the Olympics

Using both hands for balance, and Preparation H for endurance, I’m still sitting on the fence trying to decide whether the 2010 Olympics would be a good thing or a bad thing for Whistler and B.C.

Using both hands for balance, and Preparation H for endurance, I’m still sitting on the fence trying to decide whether the 2010 Olympics would be a good thing or a bad thing for Whistler and B.C.

On the one hand the idea of hosting the Olympics is exciting and could bring some huge benefits to Whistler and the entire province. On the other hand the costs involved and the size of the event are enough to warrant a very cautious approach. I think I could live with the Games; I’ve lived without them all my life.

But there is no doubt the bid is going ahead. This shouldn’t be a surprise since it was announced in December of 1998 that Vancouver had won the right to put forward Canada’s bid for the 2010 Games. However, to judge by some of the stories in the Lower Mainland media the decision to bid for the Olympics has come out of the blue in the last month. Some of the newspapers and television stations of Izzy Asper’s CanWest Global media empire have the readership and viewers to draw attention to some important issues regarding the bid, but they’re about three years late in doing so.

Let’s start with the unstated but implied view in much of the recent media coverage that the Olympic bid was the product of the cunning mind of Gordon Campbell and the Machiavellian Liberals. It was their brilliant strategy to introduce cuts to all kinds of services in B.C. and then announce millions (so far) in spending for Olympic facilities.

Wrong. The Olympic bid was initiated, and fully supported, by Glen Clark’s NDP government. The Liberals, then in opposition, supported the idea – perhaps the only thing the two parties saw eye to eye on. Note we haven’t heard much criticism of the bid from Joy MacPhail or Jenny Kwan.

But to go back even further, it was the members of Tourism Vancouver – which is to say businessmen and women – who pushed the Olympic idea forward. Those are the same people who have been agitating for an expanded Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre for years (which Clark bungled by pissing off the federal government) because the current facility is at capacity and, according to Olympic bid people, turning down $300 million in business every year. An expanded Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre is a critical component of the Olympic bid; it would be the main media centre for the 2010 Olympics.

Then there is the idea that plans for the Games contained in the mini-bid book, submitted to the IOC last month, are "shrouded in a thick fog of secrecy," as one Vancouver headline put it. It is true the Vancouver Bid Corporation hasn’t made its mini-bid book public, while Bern and Jaca have posted their mini-bid books on the Web. And the bid corporation has kept some details under wraps. But again, if the Lower Mainland media had been pursuing the Olympic story over the last three years, or even the last nine months, most of the details of the mini-bid book wouldn’t be so mysterious.

In separate presentations before Whistler council recently bid chair and CEO Jack Poole and bid president John Furlong have said the mini-bid book doesn’t contain anything Whistler doesn’t already know. Councillor Dave Kirk’s assessment of the mini-bid book was "Well organized and interesting, but not as world-shattering as I might have thought."

Which leads us into the Olympic bid on the local level. Whistler council, on behalf of the people of Whistler, has yet to officially endorse the bid. Councillor Kristi Wells sought to remedy that on Monday in a motion following Poole’s presentation. The proposal drowned in a sea of silence. No one was willing to second the motion.

Wells says she was taken aback by the silence. Mayor Hugh O’Reilly says the rest of council was taken aback by Wells’s motion. O’Reilly says council is close to endorsing the bid but is waiting for final wording on an indemnification agreement with the province and final details about the pre-Olympic legacies, including expansion of municipal borders and the land bank.

Poole left the meeting following the awkward, embarrassing silence but apparently understands the reasons behind it. He also knows that municipal elections are just five months away.