Alison Redford Brad Wall Cindy Ady Danielle Smith Ed Stelmach Greg Selinger Jack Hayden Jonathan Denis Lindsay Blackett Ted Morton Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics

all aboard the alberta winter olympic train.

As far as international events go, it is hard to beat the size of the Olympic Games. Over 80 countries from across the world will be participating in the Winter sports event that kicked off in Vancouver last night.

With hundreds of millions of dollars likely being spent on wining and dining, it might feel like a drop in the bucket for the Province of Alberta to spend nearly $15 million dollars to promote the province to attendees, including the sponsorship of six Rocky Mountaineer train cars and the Alberta Pavilion.

Unparalleled comfort in the premier business networking venue at the Games.

The Rocky Mountaineer expense is billed by the Government of Alberta website as an opportunity to “provide the premier business networking venue at the Games” for only $499 for a round-trip ticket from Vancouver to Whistler. Who will be networking with the elite business Olympians of the world? Premier Ed Stelmach and eleven cabinet ministers will be there to wine, dine, and “offer guests unparalleled comfort” during their stay on the Alberta train! While experiencing this luxury, most passengers on the Alberta train this week would probably have a hard time believing that Alberta is in the midst of “tough economic times” and that just four short days ago, these 12 elected officials tabled a provincial budget that included the largest deficit in Alberta’s history.

Alberta Train - Vancouver 2010 OlympicsAlberta Train

Sending Premier Stelmach, Tourism Minister Cindy Ady, and Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett makes sense, but what of the other nine cabinet ministers? Are Albertans well served by covering the costs of sending eleven cabinet ministers to the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games? What business could Agriculture Minister Jack Hayden, Justice Minister Alison Redford, Housing Minister Jonathan Denis, or Finance Minster Ted Morton have at the Winter Olympic Games? I am sure the “unparalleled comfort” of the posh train cars will live up to its reputation, but is it really necessary to have half of Premier Stelmach’s cabinet on site?

As Graham Thomson pointed out in his Edmonton Journal column this morning, other PC MLAs will joining them, but “nobody in government seems to know exactly how many backbenchers are going.” I do not oppose Alberta having a presence at these games, but modesty is virtue our elected officials should not forget.

Alberta Train - Vancouver 2010 OlympicsAlberta Train

Time and money well spent?

Would Alberta’s cabinet ministers travel time be better spent flying elsewhere? Perhaps Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Iris Evans first mission to Washington DC in her new role this week would be more effective if she had some backup from her colleagues? Alas, no one wants to fly to DC during a winter blizzard!

Other Provinces?

When compared to our provincial neighbours, Alberta’s elected officials look like the rich kids whose parents picked up the annual tab for their spring break in Mexico. The Province of Saskatchewan is spending $4.1 million on their pavilion and Premier Brad Wall has committed to keep their political presence low at the Winter Games. Premier Wall will be joined by Tourism Minister Dustin Duncan and Enterprise Minister Ken Cheveldayoff. The Province of Manitoba is spending $6.4 million and sending a two-person team of Premier Greg Selinger and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson.

What about the real Alberta train?

Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith raised an interesting point this week while criticizing the expense:

“I would rather have seen any kind of travel budget being spent in Alberta,” Smith said. “They’re communicating to the wrong people.”

When was the last time Alberta had a Premier who spent this kind of money to sincerely communicate with Albertans? I am not talking about fancy videos commercials, visits to the Rutherford Show, or hiring expensive advertising companies to brand new messages. I am talking about actually travelling across this province and holding open town hall meetings outside of a highly managed and artificial election environment.

This feeds the perception that our elected officials are only accessible to those with political power or business interests. When was the last time Alberta had a Premier who allowed himself to be publicly accessible to any Albertan, regardless of political persuasion or income-bracket? When was the last time a Premier of Alberta hopped aboard a train filled with ordinary people of Alberta?

Carole James Colin Hansen Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics

vancouver’s 2010 winter olympic elephant.

Having spent the last week in beautiful British Columbia (well, Burnaby and Vancouver), I’ve really come to appreciate the size of the upcoming 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. At times, it felt as if I couldn’t walk a block in downtown Vancouver without seeing an Olympic logo, or a display of Quatchi, Miga, and Sumi peering through a storefront window or from a billboard perch. While it’s exciting that British Colombians and Canadians are hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics, I’m torn on how I feel about the games.

1) Is $6 billion for a one-time event a giant misuse of resources? The Olympics cost a lot of money, and with funding also coming from the Federal Government, it is clear that all Canadians will be paying a share of the Olympic sized-costs (including almost a billion dollars for security costs — which equals the amount of Alberta’s 2009 Budget Deficit). Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is also worried that Vancouver will be saddled with even more Olympic costs as the city struggles to deal with an increase in gang violence.

These kind of costs strengthen the argument for the creation of two permanent Olympic host cities that would host the games and infrastructure every four years (one each for the Winter and Summer games).

2) An Olympic-sized economic cocoon. There is a strong argument that the Olympic-related construction and investment in Vancouver has temporarily cocooned much of the Lower Mainland from the economic recession that has hit most of North America. Though this may be temporary, it’s hard to argue that the 2010 games aren’t providing a lot of people with jobs this year.

3) I actually enjoy the Winter Olympics. I offered some heavy criticism of the previous Olympic Games, but unlike the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, which were hosted in the free speech loving People’s Republic of China (severe sarcasm alert!), cyber-dissidents like myself have yet to be rounded up for offering criticisms of our glorious governing leaders.

4) The politics of the Vancouver Olympics are fascinating. Depending on the results of the May 12, 2009 BC Provincial election, the Premier of British Columbia in 2010 could be a cheerleader or a critic of the Games. In the spirit of partisan maneuvering, BC Liberal Finance Minister Colin Hansen has already begun to point out the nightmares that may become a reality if NDP leader Carole James becomes Premier later this year. The games will be happening no matter who is sitting behind the Premier’s desk, but it would surely be a lot less awkward if they were supportive.