The Evangelical Economics of the 2010 Olympics


Welcome to Vancouver Olympic Economics 101.

As cities around the world fall all over themselves to bid to become the host city, civic elites bombard the public with tales of rosy financial projections.  As the logic goes, to oppose the Olympics is to stand in the way of economic development.  Armchair newspaper columnists misframe social critics and advance the Olympic project.

In reality, the economy of a host city goes on steroids.  Construction costs double.  Real estate speculation heats up, impacting affordability.  Public money gets diverted for speedskating ovals and luge tracks.  No one wants to talk about the principle of ‘opportunity cost.’  Cost overruns are classified as contributions to the GDP.  We need to make our city look pretty for Bob Costas and NBC.

Not since Rowdy Roddy Piper attacked Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka on Piper’s Pit has there been such a grave injustice in modern sports – the 2010 Olympics have been that bad to the people of Vancouver.

The columnists in Vancouver newspapers have been so uniformly evangelical in their support of the Olympics, it is grounding to see that the public opinion polls supporting the upcoming event has only about 50% support in Vancouver.

The Sauder School of Business at the University of B.C. found that the Olympics are only going to have negligible impact on the economy.

A recent $2 million Pricewaterhouse Coopers report commissioned by the provincially secretariat responsible for the Olympics explained the impact of the intrinsic value of the Olympics in this way:

“Intrinsic impacts are qualitative in nature and are typically associated with direct experiential impacts that individuals or society receive from activities.  Intrinsic impacts may: 

-captivate people, moving them beyond their everyday experience
-provide a vehicle for cognitive growth
-create social bonds through sharing of experiences
-express communal meanings that speak on behalf of communities.”

It makes me laugh every time I see it.  It reads like something in the New Age section of the bookstore.

The public cost is already at $6 billion and counting.  Security will be at least $900 million. I haven’t even mentioned the bankruptcy proceedings of Intrawest and Fortress Investments, the owners of the Whistler/Blackcomb resort where much of the skiing events will be taking place.

On the housing front, the inner city of Vancouver has been gentrifying its Downtown Eastside neighbourhood rapidly.  The homelessness count for Metro Vancouver will have more than doubled from the bidding process to the day the Olympic opening ceremonies take place.  Though the government has purchased some SRO hotels after receiving civil society pressure, between 1,085 to 1,580 units have either converted to other uses or are no longer economically accessible to low income people in the time period beginning with the Olympic bid process until the Games begin.  The Olympics have accelerated and amplified development paths in the city which has had devastating social consequences.

If that rate of conversion continues in the Downtown Eastside over the next ten years and if we see similar affordability issues in the rest of the Lower Mainland, homelessness could easily gravitate to between 5,000 – 6,000 people in Metro Vancouver by 2020. 

Homelessness in Vancouver’s Elephant in the Room during the 2010 Olympics despite its tourism motto of “Best Place on Earth.”

People are angry in Vancouver because they were sold a different story on the Olympics.  When citizens voted 64% in a plebiscite in 2003, they were promised an Olympic Games with a substantial social legacy.  They were promised social housing at the athlete’s village which will likely evaporate.

They were promised protection of their civil liberties.  That too has largely been thrown out the window.  In Canada, Olympic protestors are being visited at their homes and workplaces.  The City of Vancouver plans to fine people for using megaphones in Olympic Live Sites. 

In attempts to set up Orwellian free speech zones, the authorities have landed on a new term – safe assembly areas.

Even more laughable, BC Housing, the provincial ministry responsible for building social housing is feeling so sensitive, they are establishing a propaganda office to communicate how wonderful they are doing to international media.  The team of people who dreamt this up have hit new levels of bureaucratic insanity. Olympic inertia does that to a city. 

It’s like they step on a rake and the handle hits them on the head every time.

In a powerpoint document, they lay out concerns over media scrutiny over the Olympic impacts by following the strategy to “be proactive – provide a balance.”

Sponsors include the two largest daily newspapers in Vancouver, the Province and the Sun.  The office will pitch story ideas and arrange tours.

The Government and the Media know best.  They can think for us.

At least China is quite upfront about violating human rights – in Canada they just communicate it out in a message box with a smile. 

The Inner City Inclusive Commitment Statement was a cheap, public relations scam.  The failure of VANOC and its government partners to meet these commitments rightfully has people angry as the Opening Ceremonies approach.

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