2010 Olympics

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Jill and Steve the 2010 Olympics that will be held in Vancouver.

Steve: Hi Jill.

Jill: Hi Steve.

Steve: Well, what do you want to talk about today?

Jill: Well, we had a request on the Forum from Rosie in Japan to talk a little bit about the Winter Olympics that are going to be held here in Vancouver and Whistler in 2010.

Steve: Boy, it doesn’t seem so far into the future does it?

Jill: And it seemed like it was so far away when they announced that we won the bid about three years ago now, two years ago?

Steve: Possibly more.

Jill: It was at least three years ago I think.

It just seemed like it was so far in the future and now, really, they have different venues built now.

I think some luge and bobsled tracks up at Whistler and new skating rinks, ovals, for speed skating are already built and done.

Steve: I gather they’re over budget on quite a few things?

Jill: Yeah, yeah, I think.

Steve: We’ve had a bit of a construction boom here in Vancouver in the lower mainland as we call it, so that has driven up the price of building materials, the cost of construction labor.

People are complaining that it’s going to be a very expensive Olympics, more expensive than we expected and the taxpayers will be paying for it for a long time.

Jill: I forget what they said already that we’re…is it $500 million over budget already? I think that was the number.

I might be wrong, but it was a large, large number and that’s just so far.

Steve: Now, of course, not all of this expenditure is sort of a one-shot expenditure just for the Olympics.

This includes a high-speed rapid transit line from the airport into the city.

Jill: Which we need.

Steve: Which we need. It includes improving the highway up to Whistler, which we need.

Jill: Yes.

Steve: And many of the facilities they’re building are going to be permanent facilities for recreation or for housing but, undoubtedly, some of the cost will be spent specifically for the Olympics and there will be nothing to show for it once the Olympics are over.

Jill: Which is making quite a few people angry; especially, I know there’s been quite a few protests lately with different advocacy groups and people who feel that we’re not taking care of our more marginalized people, the people who maybe are homeless or have different problems and that we shouldn’t be spending money on the Olympics, we should be spending more money to help the people who live here.

So, there is quite a debate over the whole thing.

Steve: You know the interesting thing — we’re straying a bit from the Olympics — but the interesting thing about the problem of homelessness.

We do have a significant homeless problem in Vancouver and it’s not only in Vancouver you see it in other places, but I think we’ve got a pretty bad one here for a variety of reasons…

Jill: Yeah, we do.

Steve: …having to do with a milder climate, which attracts people from all over Canada.

But one thing is true, when I lived here in the late ‘70s and ‘80s there was far less money spent on social welfare and we had far fewer homeless people.

Jill: Interesting.

Steve: I know when I lived in Japan in the ‘70s there were no homeless people.

Now Japan has a much more developed social welfare system and you see more homeless people.

Jill: Throwing money at it is maybe not necessarily…

Steve: Well, that’s right; it seems to be a complex phenomenon.

It might have something to do with modern life, with stresses, with breakdown of family, with so many different things.

It’s not obvious to me that just more money is the solution, but it’s a bit like this whole…we often talk about the language learning infrastructure for immigrants.

All of the people who are in that sector are always clamoring for more money because that’s normal.

They want more money for their organization; it’s not clear that they achieve very much, unfortunately.

I saw this study in the United States where they looked at immigrants and compared them sort of from a certain point in time, say six or 12 months later, and looked at those immigrants that improved and the reasons that contributed to the…improved in language, in English.

These are, typically, in the Untied States it’s immigrants from Latin America; legal or illegal for that matter.

The hours of instruction of ESL, you know, English as a second language instruction, was a minor factor.

So, other things that they weren’t able to measure like does this immigrant work with other English speaking people?

Is this immigrant motivated?

Does the immigrant watch Spanish at home on television or does he watch English at home?

I mean there are so many other things, not just how much funding goes into schools.

Jill: Right.

Steve: I think with the homeless thing, which is a big issue…I mean people will be shocked when they come here for the Olympics when they see…

Jill: …how many homeless people are here.

Steve: Now, for some of those people they’re mentally disturbed, for some of them they are drug addicts and some of them seem to choose that as a lifestyle.

Maybe we have a society which is more permissive, more tolerant, of all these alternative lifestyles.

Whereas 50 years ago, you know, if you wanted to go on the street people would say fine, die there.

You know what I mean?

Jill: There weren’t all the people who wanted to help you.

Steve: Well, that’s right; it just wasn’t an option. You didn’t become a squeegee kid.

Jill: Right; a squeegee kid.

Steve: And go out there, you know, and…

Jill: We should explain that a little bit.

Steve: Well, a squeegee kid is…I think there are fewer of them now.

I think they’ve cracked down on them, but you drive to a red light and this perfectly healthy, young person comes up and offers to clean your windshield.

Jill: With very dirty water, generally, and a squeegee like a sponge.

Steve: Yeah.

Jill: And then, of course, they want you to give them money.

Steve: Yeah.

Jill: And…

Steve: The dirty water doesn’t bother me.

Jill: It bothers me when I have a clean car.

Steve: I didn’t ask for that person.

But what really bothers me is I can understand if you are in Calcutta…

Jill: Right.

Steve: …where these people…I mean there’s literally nothing for them; they’re poor.

To me it is almost like making fun of those people.

Here’s a Canadian person who has the opportunity to do other things pretending to be a poverty-stricken person from Calcutta.

They’re not and so I have no sympathy for those people whatsoever.

Jill: Well, I mean, I just think…I do believe that a lot of the people who are homeless have mental illnesses.

It’s very difficult for them and they cannot necessarily hold down a job.

But, like a lot of these squeegee kids, generally, they are very young people.

I’m sure some of them have a lot of problems too, but if you can stand on a street corner all day long wiping somebody’s windshield why can’t you work at a gas station and make $9.00 an hour and do the same thing?

Steve: Everywhere you go in Vancouver you see signs “Help Wanted”.

Jill: There is such a labor shortage right now.

Steve: Such a labor shortage, so don’t tell me you can’t get a job. Every time I go into a little shop or a restaurant all I see is “Help Wanted”.

Jill: It’s true.

Steve: Anyway, we’ve strayed from the subject of the Olympics.

Jill: We’ve strayed, yes.

Steve: You, particularly, wanted to talk about something else that was in the news related to the Olympics.

Jill: …to the Olympics. Well, I heard a couple of weeks ago that the public sector here in…I don’t know if it’s just Vancouver or British Columbia…

Steve: British Columbia.

Jill: I think it’s British Columbia. So province-wide that people who work for… in the public sector…

Steve: The provincial government, but only the provincial government I think.

Jill: Is it only the provincial?

Steve: Yeah.

Jill: Yeah, I think so.

Steve: Yeah, yeah, because the federal government…

Jill: Right.

Steve: They would have to get permission from the federal government.

Jill: Yeah, which is a large number of people; thousands.

Steve: Hundreds of thousands.

Jill: Hundreds of thousands, yeah, that because we need volunteers for the Olympics — that’s fine — they are going to be given or they can choose to volunteer for 14 days.

The Olympics are two weeks, I think, and seven of those days they will be paid by taxpayer money.

Then the other seven days, if they want to take the other seven days, well that has to be out of their vacation time.

But, I was just appalled that all of these people can take a week off, seven days off work to go volunteer, have fun and we pay for it.

Steve: Well, it begs a number of questions.

There’s a good expression for our learners “it begs the question.” In other words, it brings up a number of considerations.

Number one, do those people have nothing useful to do?

You know?

If the whole bunch of them, almost an unlimited number…

Jill: …can just take a week off…

Steve: …all together at the same time and go volunteer, it suggests that maybe they’re not so useful, which I suspect is the case anyway.

Now, people who do have important jobs to do like hospital workers, nurses, emergency response people, I mean those people aren’t going to be volunteering.

Jill: No.

Steve: Don’t tell me that they’re going to be taking people out of our hospitals.

Jill: Right.

Steve: Doctors and nurses are going to go up to Whistler to volunteer?

I don’t think so.

So, it is going to be more of the kind of people who spend a lot of time over at the coffee shop.

Jill: Office workers.

Steve: So that’s the one question.

And then the other question, if that is a legitimate thing to do…like, first of all, the second question is it, basically, devalues the spirit of volunteerism.

Jill: That’s right!

Steve: I’m paid to volunteer? Well I’m no longer volunteering.

Jill: That’s exactly right. You’re not a volunteer anymore.

Steve: No, you’re being paid to go there.

I am sure that the genuine volunteers will work harder and have a more helpful and positive and energetic approach to their task then these volunteers who are paid to volunteer who may show up or spend their whole time in a…I shouldn’t say that, that’s not true.

So, that’s the second question and then the third question is, you know, why can the public sector, with your tax money and mine, do that?

Jill: Yeah.

Steve: When in the private sector…I’m a private sector worker, we both are, but why should your friend who works for the government be allowed to go up to Whistler at public expense and volunteer?

Jill: Have a week off for fun and get paid and I’m footin’ the bill for it.

Steve: I know.

Jill: I just think it’s absolutely appalling.

Steve: Appalling.

Jill: But, such is…

Steve: Are they going to do that?

Won’t they get enough volunteers?

I know when Calgary had the Olympic Games they were swamped with volunteers.

Jill: I know at this point they do still need more volunteers, but it is still two years away.

I would think that they would have more than enough volunteers.

Steve: Oh yeah.

Jill: And the thing is if they don’t have enough volunteers then I understand offering some incentives, but it shouldn’t be just to the public employees.

The incentive should be given to every British Columbian.

Steve: Well, exactly, because I think a lot of people could get time off from their employer.

Jill: That’s right, so are you going to pay my wage?

Steve: So then if they’re going to pay — the government is paying the wages of these public service workers — then you or I could say well I can try and get a week off from work, my boss might agree and then I can get paid to volunteer.

Jill: Exactly.

Steve: That helps pay for my beer while I’m up at Whistler.

Jill: That’s right. Yeah, I just think the whole thing is very unfair.

Steve: I mean let’s not get on the subject, but it’s part of the whole sense of the government employees can do what they want.

They are, obviously, working for the public good whereas people in the private sector are money-grubbing.

There’s a good term for our learners.

Jill: We’re for-profit…

Steve: …for-profit, money-grubbing and so forth and so on when, in fact, as we’ve said very often, it is that money-grubbing, for-profit sector which pays taxes.

Jill: That’s right.

Steve: And not only profit from the companies, but the taxes from the salaries of the people who work in that sector that feed the public sector.

Now, obviously, public sector employees pay taxes as well.

Jill: Yes and are needed as well.

Steve: And then there’s a whole number of services that we’re very happy to have.

Jill: And there’s a lot of public civil servants who do work hard.

Steve: I’m sure.

Jill: So.

Steve: I mean most people are motivated to work hard in whatever job they’re given.

I think that’s generally the case whether you’re in the private or the public sector.

But, the problem in the public sector is the issue of accountability.

If you set up a private company and nobody’s interested in your service…

Jill: …then you go under.

Steve: You go under.

Jill: You can’t make it.

Steve: Or you can’t organize yourself properly so that your revenue at least matches your costs, expenses, you’re out of business.

Whereas in the public sector you come up with a program of we’re going to build something here and, well, rather than having a small, whatever, rec center, we’ll have a big one.

There’s no limit, we’ll just tax people, so…

Jill: We’ll just increase taxes or whatever if we need to pay for it, yeah.

Steve: So, there’s a fundamental problem there.

Now, theoretically, of course, democracy should deal with that and when we see governments wasting our money we should throw them out, but people aren’t that close to it unfortunately.

Jill: No, no.

Steve: Anyway that aside, are you a fan of the Olympic Games?

Jill: You know, I can’t say that I spend too much time watching them.

There are a few events if I’m home I’ll watch, but no, I don’t spend a lot of time watching the Olympics.

Steve: Are you more interested in the Winter Olympics or the Summer Olympics?

Jill: Well, see, I like hockey, which is Winter Olympics, but then I like the swimming and the gymnastics in the Summer Olympics.

I don’t know; I’m not very interested in either to tell you the truth.

When I was younger I really was and I don’t know why…I guess I’m just not interested in sitting at my house watching sports on television.

It doesn’t do a lot for me.

Steve: Right, yeah, no, I tend to agree with you.

Some of the events though are amazing, for example, the skiing.

Now I can’t watch skier after skier, I can’t tell who’s fast, who’s slow, but they are extraordinary, extraordinary and they are skiing on ice you know.

And they’re gripping that ice with their edges and they’re maximizing their speed and they’re taking such tremendous risks.

And, of course, the thighs on those skiers are just…

Jill: I know or speed skaters.

Steve: Or speed skaters.

Jill: You know some of it actually causes me kind of some anxiety, which is why I think I don’t like to watch it because I really do see how fast some of them are going and they’re on ice or snow or whatever and it scares me.

I just…

Steve: It’s a little scary; oh, when they fall, oh, oh yeah, I don’t… Unfortunately, whenever they fall they’ll show that 15 times.

I don’t like seeing someone who’s flying, their crashing, breaking bones.

Jill: No, no.

Steve: And some of the events are quite ridiculous.

Certainly, all of these luge, bobsled, I mean spending millions of dollars to build this structure for how many athletes.

I mean have you ever been in a luge or a bobsled?

Jill: No.

Steve: Never will, so some of those are ridiculous. I agree with you, the gymnastics.

Jill: Oh, they’re amazing.

Steve: Some of the things that those performers do. Some of the men on those…

Jill: The rings?

Steve: The rings. That is just…

Jill: …unbelievable strength.

Those people have unbelievable strength.

Steve: Control and strength.

Jill: Flexibility.

Steve: Flexibility, but all of them; but some are more spectacular.

I agree with you, gymnastics is particularly spectacular just in terms of the human body and what they’re able to do with the human body.

Whereas, you know, what is it shooting events?

Jill: Oh.

Steve: I can’t watch that.

Jill: Oh, yeah, archery?

Steve: Archery?

Jill: I guess. I don’t know if they have archery, but different…yeah, there’s some events that I will never watch.

Steve: Boxing I’m not a great fan of; people pounding each other’s heads in.

Jill: Wrestling and all that, no.

Steve: Wresting, no, I don’t like. Judo I don’t like watching.

Jill: No.

Steve: The running events…

Jill: Yeah, running, track, track and field.

Steve: Yeah, the short ones. Like, you know, and I guess the finish line for the…I mean the marathon is a major event, right?

That’s a big deal I think.

Jill: Yes. I like watching parts of it too.

Steve: Yeah.

Jill: For sure, when people are finishing that’s fun.

Steve: Right, yeah. Okay, well there you have it.

We had a bit of a discussion on some of the issues that come up here locally and, of course, the Olympics is one.

We talked a bit about homelessness and the problem with the growing strength of the public sector and public sector unions and the public sector.

Very often the bureaucrats run things in our supposedly democratic societies and I don’t think that’s a problem that’s unique to Canada.

Jill: No, I don’t think so.

Steve: I think that’s a problem world-wide and, hopefully, one day we can peel back the strength of the bureaucracy.

Okay, thanks Jill.

Jill: Thank you.

Steve: Bye.

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