Maxed Out 

The Family’s jewels

By G.D. Maxwell

"Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And hain’t that a big enough majority in any town?"

Mark Twain, from Huckleberry Finn

Well, I guess we’ll know for sure tomorrow. The foolish, the wise, the hopeful and hopeless, the boosters and the detractors, those who will surely win and those who will surely lose if the universe unfolds one way or the other next July, all have the chance to traipse off to the polls and do the dance of democracy tomorrow.

At least if they live in Vancouver they do.

If you live in Whistler, or Victoria, or Clinton, or Bella Bella or anywhere else in British Columbia you’ll just have to suck it up big boy, Father knows best and you know jack. Call it the pernicious, systemic corrupting influence of an inherently corrupt, undemocratic organization – the International Olympic Committee – if you will, but most of us who will be bankrolling a crapshoot if Vancouver is awarded the 2010 Olympics haven’t been given and never will be given a chance to join the foolish majority. Our voices just don’t count when it comes to the high-stakes decision of wooing the Olympic Family.

Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? The Olympic Family. Mom and Dad and all the aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins and brothers and sisters gathered ‘round the global village’s fireplace, selflessly cheering on athletes who have spent their whole lives chasing hundredths of seconds, millimetres of grace, inches of skill for the chance to wear Olympic gold and harvest the crop of corporate sponsorship. The primal warmth of family is a perfect disguise for the greed, dishonesty, payola, doublecrossing, doping, contractual blackmail and social displacement behind the façade. Isn’t that why the Mafia chose it as their organizing unit?

The Olympic Family embraces standup guys like Richard Pound, for years Canada’s lord of the rings. Dick’s a great guy who, despite being both a lawyer and IOC member, is scrupulously honest. So honest he did a bangup job when asked to lead the IOC’s last round of antidoping initiatives. His reward for both honesty and unfailing dedication to cleaning up the games was a kick in the ass by the oily dictator-for-life Juan Antonio Samaranch when it came time for him to finally bow to international pressure and anoint his own replacement.

The Olympic Family also embraces less standup guys like Uday Hussein who is the president of the Iraqi National Olympic Committee. Not that I’m anxious to line up behind Bush Lite and take a gratuitous swipe at Iraq’s ruling family, but Uday is not what you or I would necessarily think of as a nice guy. Or an honest guy. Or a guy we’d like to be stranded on a lifeboat with. But he is a member in good standing of the Olympic Family and barring a regime-changing war by the Great Satan that boots his daddy’s ass out of Iraq, he’ll be roaming our tiny mountain town in 2010 if Vancouver is awarded the Games and we’ll be bending over backwards to make him welcome.

Distasteful as all the barnacles on the good ship Olympics are, I’m not sure they’re good enough reason to scuttle it. Life’s a long series of distasteful compromises and any endeavour involving humans also involves dishonesty, deceit, doubledealing and duplicity.

But having lived in Montreal and seen a once shining jewel of a city reduced to potholes and tattered glory by the twin influences of Olympic debt and governmental neglect, the whole cost thing still scares the bejezes out of me.

Last week’s release of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ report, Olympic Costs & Benefits , didn’t’ help. The CCPA – a left-leaning think tank – prepared a cost-benefit analysis of the 2010 Games, taking into account their financial impact on government, economic development, communities, the environment and such. Using publicly available data, the CCPA did what passes in the industry as a quick-and-dirty analysis. That’s not to say their work was shoddy or analysis faulty, it just wasn’t the kind of painstaking work consultants can soak a municipality three-quarters of a million bucks for.

It was, however, the only cost-benefit done to date on the games. This puts it an order of magnitude higher on the scale of analysis than the B.C. government’s economic impact analysis, the one that said the Games would make oodles of money and provide jobs for hundreds of thousands of British Columbians. That analysis was what passes in the industry as a crock.

The basic difference in the two studies’ methodologies – and this is important so bear with me for a few sentences – is that, by definition, economic impact analysis assumes any spending has a direct economic impact. Under that form of analysis, there is no higher impact to be derived from spending $50 million bucks to build a hospital than there is from spending $50 million bucks to move a pile of dirt from one place to another. In other words, all spending is good spending. Put that way, it’s clear why B.C. governments like such analyses.

Cost-benefit on the other hand, focuses on the value of what is produced and, equally important, the opportunity cost of what is not produced. Such analysis distinguishes between more or less valuable and efficient uses of scarce resources. Allow me to demonstrate.

I’ve got seven hundred bucks to spend. I finally get to the point where, in my own mind, I can choose to spend the money on (a) a new pair of skis, or (b) a glorious night of drugs and alcohol for me and my friends. Under an economic impact analysis, the impact of my choice is the same whether I go with one of the other; what I choose is irrelevant. But a rigorous cost-benefit analysis would lead to what any sane person would consider the obvious choice….

The CCPA’s study concluded the Games would likely wind up costing B.C. taxpayers – us – $1.2 billion, give or take. The 200,000 jobs touted by the government might be more like 39,000 person-years of employment over a seven year period, the equivalent of 5,600 continuing, full-time jobs which, given the costs of producing, would work out to about a $220,000 subsidy per job. Those are the highlights.

Naturally, Slash Gordon, besotted premier of all B.C. dismissed the study. He said the CCPA could not be trusted because it was funded by the New Democrats. He said he pays little attention to the CCPA because it’s driven by ideology, not facts. The CCPA did not respond by saying Campbell was just a drunk who was driven by bankrupt, conservative ideology, not facts.

In the end it doesn’t really matter. Money is the fuel in the engine of commerce. I guess that’s why I’m still ambivalent about the Olympics. My opinion doesn’t matter, my vote wasn’t allowed. But it’ll be very interesting to see what the folks down valley have to say.

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