The Poverty Olympics
Yesterday, I attended the Poverty Olympics, held in the heart of the Downtown Eastside, aka Canada’s poorest neighbourhood. It was a wonderful few hours of well-orchestrated political satire. There were opening and closing ceremonies, a torch ceremony, a new mascot (Itchy the bedbug), and of course, events (the poverty line high jump, the welfare hurdles, the broad jump over bedbug-infested matresses, and jello curling for missed housing promises). I love this kind of stuff, especially as one who has often lamented Big Labour’s knee-jerk instinct to hold a small rally on a Sunday when no one is watching. Check out some of the events here.
While the event was appropriately light-hearted, it speaks to a deep and festering tragedy in the midst of good economic times. And one that need not have happened, with $12 billion in total provincial surpluses over the past four budgets. Indeed, four years ago, in our annual BC Solutions Budget, we noted:
[B]ecause â€œthe world will be watching,â€ it is imperative to think about what it is that we want the world to see. In February 2010, gorgeous mountain vistas may be hard to come by, leaving rainy cityscapes that are not all â€œready for prime time.â€ Vancouverâ€™s Downtown Eastside is but a short walk away from the new convention centre that is to be home to media from around the world. … Imagine British or American network producers doing a feature story on the host town: what will they put on camera for the world to see? The Premier may tell a global audience that Vancouver (or BC) is the best place in the world to live, but viewers will ultimately get their impressions from what the media shine the spotlight on. If those images are of a Vancouver ravaged by poverty and homelessness, crippled by traffic congestion, or in the middle of an environmental controversy, any efforts to promote the city or province will be seriously blighted.
It is now two years before the Games, and I see those words paraphrased everywhere. The BC government dismissed our concerns at the time, and only in the past year has it started making noises about doing something, although these noises have yet to amount to actual announcements that would then set real projects in play. The money is there but the political will is not. One of the most effective posters up on display at the Poverty Olympics noted that expenditures on Games facilities could have financed almost 3,000 units of social housing.
With the lack of real action, I can only guess that $160 million in security costs, plus bringing in the military, means the poor and homeless are going to get bussed out of town in time for the Games. And there will likely be a big crackdown on protest, too.
It is kind of like watching a train wreck in slow-mo.