Goofiness and twits at the Vancouver Games

Harper's insistence on paying for tickets is a Reform holdover

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The Gazette, Sunday, February 21, 2010

Before the start of the Vancouver Olympics, the Prime Minister's Office put it out that he would be paying for his own tickets.

"For every Olympic event that the prime minister is going to be attending, he will be paying, personally, for the highest, most expensive seat available for that event," declared Harper's press secretary, Dimitri Soudas.

Soudas elaborated that Harper would be making donations to the Canadian Olympic Association or the Canadian Paralympic Association. Harper and his wife, Laureen, attended the opening ceremony, for which the top ticket was $1,100. If Canada makes the final of the men's hockey tournament, Harper would likely be attending with his son, and the best seats in the house are $700 each.

What is his point? That there's a policy of no freeloading in his government. He's one of five Canadian officials with a VIP pass to all events - the others being Governor- General Michaėlle Jean, 0pposition leader Michael Ignatieff, Sports Minister Gary Lunn and Heritage Minister James Moore.

Lunn and Moore are essentially the federal government's hosts for the Games, but as Sun Media reported, "if they are going to stop long enough to watch a game, they will be made to buy tickets from a batch reserved for MPs." Stop this nonsense!

The NDP, going the Tories one better in the holier-than-thou department, declined their opportunity to buy reserved tickets, and announced they would stand in line with everyone else.

Naturally, the media played gotcha with Ignatieff and asked if he was going to pay for his tickets, too. He said he was quite happy with his pass.

Quite right, too. The whole thing is ridiculous and risible, and makes Canada look like a bush-league country. Harper's policy of no freebies is one of those puritanical pretensions left over from the Reform Party. These Roundhead rules have also been written up in the Federal Accountability Act, Harper's signature legislation and the goofiest law in the land.

But Harper and the other four with VIP passes have a representational role at Canada's Olympics. It is his job, and theirs, to welcome visitors, cheer on our teams, and congratulate other countries on their medal performances.

By the same logic, Harper would be paying rent and his family's groceries at 24 Sussex. He'd be paying gas money for his limo. He'd be paying equivalent first-class airfare on his Challenger and A-310 flights. But those are all representational roles, too, part of the job.

It's even permitted to have fun at the Olympics, Prime Minister, and to share a hug with Canadian champions, as you did with Jenn Heil. Enjoy yourself, these are fantastic Games, and the Vancouver and Whistler venues are among the most spectacular in the world. Cypress Mountain is, too, though the lack of snow has obviously been a problem.

And the underweighting of French in the opening ceremony highlighted Canada's linguistic fault line. The VANOC organizers might have been preoccupied with their first nations' partnerships to the point where they overlooked the role of French, but the oversight can probably be corrected at the closing ceremony. For the rest, announcements are made in French first, the governor-general opened the Games in French first. The prime minister, since the day of his election, makes all his opening statements in French first. Lighten up.

You could hardly blame VANOC for the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili in a practice run on opening day, though that hasn't prevented the British press from trying. The Daily Mail even blamed it on Canada's Own the Podium program, "which should not mean placing competitors in jeopardy."

Actually, Own the Podium is about supporting elite athletes financially. And it is controversial, somehow un-Canadian and inhospitable in announcing that we were inviting the world to Vancouver to kick butt. Moreover, telling the New York Times that we hoped to win 30 medals was managing expectations entirely in the wrong direction. But the program has nothing to do with limiting the practice time of other countries.

In the competition for absurd stories in the British press, the gold medal for silliness goes to the Guardian, normally a sensible broadsheet, for the following headline: "Vancouver Games continue downhill slide from disaster to calamity: Snowboarding nonsense is the latest fiasco threatening to make these Games the worst in Olympic history."

And this was on the third day of the Games. So negative has the British press been that VANOC CEO John Furlong finally commented that "they don't appear to be attending the same Games as everyone else." Or more likely, just watching them from the press centre.

Well, if there's one thing that can unite Canadians, it's unfounded criticism from a bunch of supercilious British twits.

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