It has been a year this February since the 2010 Winter Olympics were held in Vancouver. The Athletes Village - a complex of a thousand flats – most of which remain unsold, is a ghost town. Walking midday in what should be a frenetic downtown space, the village streets were empty, and there was only one person in sight, a city sanitation worker who remarked, “It’s good, not much garbage to pick up.” The sleek three-story fitness centre, used by the athletes during the games, had four office staff, and two ladies working out in the weight room. Just like the outside, the whole building was very quiet.
Early this year the local headline for several days was the recently revealed massacre of 100 dogs last April 2010 by a sled tour operator. There was not enough business after the Olympics to feed the dogs. And most recently, the B.C. government budget projects the provincial debt interest alone to reach $3 billion by 2014.
Months before the 2010 Winter Olympics began, and months after the Games, both municipal and provincial governments were touting the economic windfall from the global event. Last December, the Vancouver Organizing Committee claimed that the Winter Games broke even in its final accounting of the nearly $2 billion it spent hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (held in March 2010 also for two weeks).
There were no hurrahs. Everyone knew this bookkeeping did not include the $4 billion taxpayer’s money drawn on for infrastructure programs - selling points during the Olympic bid - such as a new rail link to the airport, widening of the 76 mile road between the two main venue sites: Vancouver and the mountain resort of Whistler, and a new convention facility which served as media center during the events.
The federal and BC provincial governments also released two studies concluding the Games created 45,000 jobs, added $463 million in tourism and gave a $2.5 billion boost to the provincial GDP during the Games period from January to March 2010. But the financial figures were based on estimates, projections, and assignation of values such as potential investments waiting to materialized.
The City of Vancouver and neighboring municipalities are claiming that the 2010 Games generated more than $300 million in economic development and 2500 full-time jobs. The report did not mention the bailing out of the developers of the Athletes Village to the tune of $458 million swelling the city’s debt.
Statistics Canada latest report essentially downplayed all the reported Olympic “successes.” The BC unemployment rate in January this year jumped up to 8.2 per cent. In January alone 9100 jobs were lost and 12, 800 last December. Virtually most of the jobs created during the Games fizzled out right away. There was no longer any need for thousands of security personnel, kitchen staff, cleaners, and bus drivers, just to name a few. The City of Vancouver recently announced it is eliminating several staff positions to address the 2010 budget deficit.
After the Games, the Vancouver public was shocked to wake up to higher taxes for most goods and services at 12 percent, up from five to seven percent. A $10.00 restaurant meal which used to cost $10.50 is now $11.20 and that doesn’t include tip. Monthly bus passes to get around Vancouver escalated from $73 to $81. The spike of $8 means a lot when it takes an hour to earn this minimum wage.
Electricity and gas rates also went up. Property taxes are increasing this year. The BC Consumer Price Index hike for the Olympic year outpaced that of the average hourly wages threefold. A few weeks ago there was a Soviet-era like long lines at Shoppers Drug Mart chain at seven in the morning for eggs. A dozen were going on sale for $1.50 down from the regular price of $3.00. Across the U.S. Border one can buy a dozen eggs at a regular price equivalent to a Canadian dollar.
Tourism officials proclaimed that the Olympic exposure has increased travel to British Columbia and yet after the Games there has been no explanation for a decline in average daily hotel room rates and less visitor arrivals from Europe. The much ballyhooed global advertising prowess of the Olympics is suspect. A survey of Vancouverites indicate only one out of 10 remembered the city that hosted the previous 2006 Winter Olympics. Replies range from Salt Lake City to Moscow to Beijing. Correct answer: Torino, Italy.
The prognosis for the BC economy this year is bleak. Contradicting government speculations, Cameron Muir, chief economist at the British Columbia Real Estate Association, was reported to have said that strong economic growth would not happen for at least two years.
Vancouver newspaper columnist Shelley Fralic wrote that the Olympic Games (with no mention of the Paralympic Games) and Canada’s win of 26 medals was a turning point for Canadians who got a “new found sense of national self … the extra layer of pride and patriotism ...”
“Nonsense,” said local entrepreneur Kevin Hayer. “I had a maple leaf (a Canadian national symbol) tattoo on my leg before the Games and the Games did not make me feel any more proud.”
A group of men in their twenties chorused, “Ya sure, we were proud of the Canadian win for a day or a week but that was it. The Games mean nothing today.”
Laura Clarkson, an accountant, recently spent the holidays in Las Vegas and though she had a Canada T-shirt, she didn’t want to wear it and be labeled as a Canadian. She said, “The (Canadian) media have been harping about how the country became more proud but personally the Games didn’t made any difference in my life or pride as a Canadian.”
The mantra of economic paybacks and stoking national pride are surefire formulas for winning public support in hosting an Olympic Game. Unfortunately it is us the taxpayers who must carry the burden of the expense. And the irony of it all, most of us never even saw a single game in person because we couldn’t afford a ticket for an event we are and will be paying for years to come.