By CHARLES BOYLAN, TML Daily, February 27, 2010
ON February 9, 2010, just three days before the Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony, Governor General of British Columbia, former Kwantlan Chief Xwe li qwel tel, known by his colonial name Steven L. Point, read the BC Speech from the Throne.
In an exaggerated and celebratory manner, Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government heads the first section, “Our Olympic Opportunity.” It reads: “The Olympic Flame connects us in celebration of Canada, and of all the Olympic Spirit it represents. Canada stands as a testament to the power of the human spirit, partnership and enterprise. We are a nation of promise. This is our Canada. This is our British Columbia. And this is our Olympic moment!”
A sober look at the deeds of government tells a different story. On the eve of the Olympic Games, the BC government cut $10 million from the Children and Families budget, affecting the most vulnerable of the province’s poor which BC has in abundance! It has the largest number of impoverished children in the country, the lowest welfare rates, the lowest minimum wage and, for the majority of British Columbians living in the Lower Mainland, the highest cost of living. Shortly before the Games, the government announced it was cutting grants to the arts and, believe it of not, amateur sports in BC! Thus, while BC hosts the Winter Olympics, school budgets are tightened, physical education programs are squeezed and the scandal of mass youth obesity and diabetes in Canada agonizes health professionals.
In the Speech from the Throne we read: “These Games are Canada’s Games! The federal government has been our greatest partner on every step along this Olympic path….For the first time ever, every Olympic venue was completed a year ahead of schedule and on budget.”
Not quite! The Olympic Village on Vancouver’s False Creek was completed weeks before opening. The near financial collapse of the Village contractor was staved off by the City of Vancouver secretly underwriting the New York financier a hundred million dollars, a scandal that unseated the former Non-Partisan Association (NPA) council. The new Vision council had to “bite the bullet” since Olympics are always underwritten by the host city. There was also the scandal of the new Convention Centre, now hosting the international media, which over-ran its budget from $400 million to $800 million, a debt held by the province. This is to say nothing of the Sea-to-Sky highway which has opened a gold mine for real estate developers along the way to Whistler but has cost taxpayers undisclosed millions.
Ironically, the Speech also heralds the “first time ever Four Host First Nations.” These four nations did indeed host the Olympic Opening Ceremony sitting behind Canada’s Governor General Michaëlle Jean and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Aboriginal dancers played a significant role in the ceremonies, and there is a popular Aboriginal Pavilion in Vancouver. Ironic, because on February 24, 2007, Squamish Elder Harriet Nahanee died of an illness contracted while in prison for her refusal to budge from the Sea-to-Sky highway construction knocking down the unique eco-system at Eagleridge Bluffs, even though the bought chiefs of her nation made their deal with the government. Ironic too because whilst much is made of ceremonies featuring Aboriginal nations, the rank and file of those nations are impoverished, driven from their land into big city insecurity and danger. The march of 10,000 people in Vancouver five days after this Speech from the Throne to protest the uninvestigated disappearances and deaths of women, mainly Aboriginal women, underlines the unacceptable discrepancy between word and deed on this front.
In the practical world of sustaining Native cultural workers, while there are long line-ups to gain entry into the Hudson’s Bay Co. to purchase $10 mittens and other flamboyant red “Go Canada Go” paraphernalia, the exhibits of Native art work have gone virtually unannounced by Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) or the Aboriginal Pavilion organizers.
The discrepancy between words and deeds – a very big problem indeed.