Budget shortfalls (such as the one Whistler is now grappling with) are not so much a matter of insufficiency of tax dollars, as of distribution of those tax dollars. And that distribution reflects our values as a society.
So as Whistler spends $50,000 on yet another party to celebrate the Olympics, it behooves us to acknowledge that during the same period that billions were being spent to host the Games, children were dying in this province as a result of cuts to Children's Services. (Report by B.C. Children's Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Jan 27, 2011)
It is a tragedy that will likely suggest to future historians that British Columbians (or at least the government we elected) valued $100 million luge runs more than children's lives. And with the other cuts Victoria made, that we valued ski jumps, skating ovals and new highways more than we valued school programs, abused women and seniors on a fixed income.
The provincial government had no problem offering $30 million in bonuses to highly paid Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) executives, for example. But in 10 years it has refused to offer a single penny to people earning minimum wage.
Closer to home, the Whistler Public Library is closing for almost two months a year (52 Sundays) because of a budget shortfall of $54,000.
Yet we paid Whistler's former administrator $250,000 a year to be Whistler's rep on VANOC. Values, you see. And I'm afraid the library is just the beginning because the post-Olympic municipal budget is still short over $800,000. And since the new Olympic bus station and its so-called green buses are going to cost Whistler taxpayers millions of dollars in extra service charges every year, more drastic cuts are inevitable. Of course it's not just in Whistler - every community in B.C. is facing cuts to libraries, school programs, women's centres, senior's programs, etc., etc. In fact, Whistler got off much better than other communities in the province: at least we got some tangible assets out of the deal.
But I'm afraid VANOC's notion that the Olympics broke even is a fantasy worthy of a Disney movie. It seems to have conveniently forgotten the billion here and billion there that taxpayers paid for things like security. And the highway. (Remember, we were told it was absolutely essential for the bid.) And fancy bus stations. So by all means celebrate the amazing performances of the Olympic athletes. But as you eat your cake, don't use the athletes as an excuse to rationalize the reckless Olympic spending that will likely contribute to cuts in services for years to come. The Olympic athletes I know would sleep in a tent and eat beans for a chance to compete against each other. No, the expensive trappings that come with the Olympic dream go to another group altogether. And there are undeniable consequences, as the report on Children's Services makes tragically clear.