19 January 2010

Olympic Brouha....ha?

So, I'll admit it. Seven years ago I marched down to the local polling station and voted in the Vancouver plebiscite to decide whether we wanted to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. And I voted No.

Not that it ended up mattering, mind you - but I felt very strongly at the time that my city - my wonderful, weird city - was not ready to host such a huge event. Not with our endemic poverty, our sub-Saharan Africa rates of HIV and tuberculosis and the slashing of our social programs in order to pay for this thing. I still kind of do.

Basically, for Expo 86 Vancouver's the poor of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside were marginalized further and crammed into a smaller area than ever before, making this historical neighbourhood the Western world's most impoverished postal code.

Visitors always ask me why we have so many intravenous drug users and homeless folks to begin with and there are a lot of reasons, but I think that the main one is that we are the only city in Canada where it is kind of warm enough all year round to spend large chunks of time outside. You can't exactly sleep on the street in Winnipeg in February - a lot of people from across Canada who have drug addictions and mental disorders - and often both (the dual diagnosis) make their way here, a bustling port town on the Pacific Rim with a sordid opiate trade history and lenient policies (even safe injection sites.)

What myself and the other left leaning people of Vancouver were worried about in hosting the Olympics was that Expo 86 would repeat itself and we'd have an even larger problem in the city. And in a way that has happened - millions upon millions of dollars have been spent on infrastructure while the most vulnerable people in my city languish on the cold, wet streets - unable to get into a treatment bed even if they want to.

The homeless are not the only ones affected- even social programs like books for the blind have been cut (how evil and heartless does that seem to you?). Festivals and events are being cancelled due to lack of funding. My provincial government no longer gives grants to students. This isn't even mentioning the destruction of stolen Native land to build roads (and commodification of Native images used to sell mascots and products.) The list is endless and appalling.

It's clear who is going to benefit - the foreign companies such as Coca-Cola, McDonalds (you try eating that crap and being athletic - not gonna happen) and Samsung will all rake in millions while we locals spend 2 hours - yes, you heard me, 2 hours to get transit to get to work.

BUT - and here it is - it's happening. Whether I am saddened and scared for the state my city will be in when it is over, it is happening whether I think it's moral or not and I am actually really excited. People will be here from all over the globe! Estonians! Argentinians! Belorussians! South Africans! So many more!

It truly is a once in a lifetime event, and I will be telling my grandchildren (oh lord - someone who will be raised by someone who will be raised by me.... may god have mercy on their souls) about this in 50 years. I only wish that my Grandpa, a huge Olympics fan, was here to see his city host them.

And while transit will be terrible and traffic horrendous, despite my political angst I cannot wait to put some wine in a travel mug, bundle up and walk downtown on February twelfth to just soak up the energy and the craziness during the Opening Ceremonies. Violet Dear does love a party...

I am deeply ashamed of the poverty left unchecked in Vancouver and I think that we should focus on fixing our problems before inviting the world in to see them - but I am also proud of my outrageously beautiful city. Like, extremely proud. It's a pretty great place to be from(and as a born and raised local I am as rare as a unicorn.)

So gang, tune in in the coming weeks. I'll let you know how it's going. And it just might be a travel mug full o' wine doing the talking.....


...Mrs.P! said...

I know exactly how you feel. It was like that in Sydney in the lead-up to the Olympics, and like you, there is the But, but all I can say is, it was one of the best times to be in the city ever! I think I spent most nights of the games just wandering around with my friends, meeting new people from all over the world.

indrablog said...

I sort of agree with you that the sudden development the city has to undergo to host the big event will divert the focus from real problems. It is so every where. I guess China is going through it right now. Nice to know a left-leaning person.

Tonia said...

Feel the same way about the London olympics as community playing fields and allotments are torn up to make way for it. Makes me very cross, esp. when I see heritage and museums budgets being slashed to pay for it. We never got to vote on it.
On the bright side, we'll have lots of lovely running track and enormous empty sports halls at the end of it. Brilliant.

Heather said...

I didn't get any bursaries/awards last year, when I have repeatedly recieved at least $3000/year It slammed me financially. faak! I hope I get something this semester. Shawn also mentioned that VANOC rented every billboard in town! every sqaure inch! Macdonalds and coke will be forced down your throat whether you like it or not.

Cw said...


I'm with you! Let' get liquored and go meet some foreigners and show em a good time. If you know what I mean. There's nothing to be done now, this out of control freight train of over spending and excess cannot be stopped by protests and riots will only blemish our city's name further. I can only hope that one day we can all turn to help the impoverished people of Vancouver have a decent and respectful space to live, eat and sleep.
BTW Hi Heather! I hear yah on the bursary front. Instead of the 3K i was getting every year they just turned it into a loan amount. Fuckers.

Grant said...

Pulling student grants is going too far. Infrastructure with no one to run it makes oh so much sense. and the bc md's now get a $100 bonus per patient for not effing the dog and gettin people out of emerge w/i 2 hours not based on outcomes but comeouts.

We need the people to rise up and demand a say in what's spent, i vote for government by public check box.

Having said that we not talking bout 'practice' its the Olympics, go Canada go!

the person within said...

It is not necessary for a person to be left leaning or right leaning. The issue is sometimes you might feel that the other side is doing the right thing. Then, you will feel as if you are betraying your fellow 'leanists'.. guess, that is a completely new word made up by me :)

But, the point is, sometimes we should follow Gautam Buddha's teaching: 'Following the Middle path.'

Anyway, that is what I feel. Need not be applicable to you.
Coming back to the the topic, being from India, I completely empathize with you about the marginalization of the poor.