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Election games and 2010 Games

Olympic sleeping giant a quiet but powerful issue as vote approaches

It’s all-quiet on the western front when it comes to this election and the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

No longer is it the wedge issue it was in the 2001 election during which the Liberals gleefully rubbed their hands together as the Green Party’s outright opposition to the Games took votes away from the NDP.

Gone also is all public political opposition to hosting the Games, which will run from Feb. 12 to 28, 2010.

"Its irrelevant now if the Greens support the Games," said deputy leader Dennis Perry who is running in West Vancouver-Garibaldi.

"We are years on into it. The bottom line is we’ve got the Games so let’s just do the absolute best job we can."

The NDP are also firmly behind the Games. Indeed the push to host the event began under the previous NDP government.

"This is an opportunity that we will get once in a lifetime," said Tim Stevenson who is running for the NDP in the Vancouver-Burrard riding.

That wasn’t always the case. When the Liberals won the last election the NDP waffled on supporting the Games until Vancouver was actually awarded them by the International Olympic Committee in July of 2003.

"They all have to be in favour of the Olympics because basically the thing has been settled and you have to remember when you are talking the Olympics you are talking apple pie and God," said Lindsay Meredith, professor of marketing and business at Simon Fraser University. "To be against apple pie and God is pretty stupid."

That doesn’t mean that behind closed doors NDP, Green and even Liberal candidates aren’t voicing concern over the $600 million the province and Ottawa have committed to fund the Games. After all voter voices across the province have clamoured for more funding for health care and education.

But failing to support the Olympics, the ideals the event stands for, and the projected economic spin-offs associated with it would be political suicide.

If there is a chink to be found by the NDP or the Greens in the Liberal game plan for the Games it will be found in the government’s analysis of the economic impact of the event and its cost.

"They need desperately to find a touchstone for a political campaign and the only chance they’ve got is to try and catch the Liberals on something where there is a good counter attack and counter arguments against it being a poor business decision or a burden on taxpayers," said Meredith.

"So while they won’t come out and say, ‘no, no, no it’s wrong, if we were in power we would cancel it,’ rest assured they will certainly take a whack at the Liberals for anything that remotely smells of cost overrun."

Indeed both the Greens and the NDP are determined to act as watchdogs despite backing the Games.

The $600 million upgrade of the Sea to Sky Highway, a spin-off of the Games, might also be political fodder as the dust settles after the election.

But with a horrific annual death toll – at least 12 people on average – all kinds of development in the Squamish area and a resort at the end of the road which has poured billions into provincial coffers over the last few decades, cutting back on the upgrades would be a hard sell.

When it comes to building the Olympic venues surprisingly the NDP, with its strong union ties, is not advocating contracts be limited to union shops.

"I think the NDP with (leader) Carole James wants to have a balance between management and labour," said Stevenson. "Carole has been very clear that she wants everyone seated at the table and she said that that will be a first for a balanced government and I think the Olympics could be a showcase for that."

And it’s not just the provincial election which is being impacted by the Games. Federal political parties will seek out a connection with the Games whenever possible, especially the beleaguered Liberals who may face an election this summer.

"It’s a gold plated animal and the Feds see that too," said Meredith. "You are going to see much more of (Prime Minister) Paul Martin out here trying to make mileage out of it."