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B.C. taxpayers to pay millions for 2010 Olympic Games ‘volunteers’

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Miro Cernetig in the Vancouver Sun

It’s August. There is not much news. And not much to comment about, for newspapers – or bloggers. The rain is of course a welcome relief, but not really worth a lot of column inches.

Miro does his best to whip up a froth of outrage over the way that once again Olympic spending is coming out of our pockets, and predictably the commenters under the story note that if civil servants can be released on full pay for months at a time then their jobs cannot be all that necessary. It does say a lot about this government’s priorities that in the same week that they cut discretionary funding (lottery proceeds) to libraries and arts groups, that a two week sports festival get yet more attention and money. Especially since the Olympics have been one of the things that major corporations had been elbowing each other out of the way in their rush to get their media exposure and advertising benefits (“the rings! the rings!”). Of course businesses now are mostly too busy trying to survive – and few are expected to second staff to fill the lack of real volunteers.

What moved me to write was the sloppiness of Cernetig’s analysis.

When the government quietly posted its call for 250 volunteers a few days ago, it got triple the number of applications.

The cost of this to the taxpayer isn’t being released. But it’s not hard to figure out.

An average civil servant makes about $50,000 a year. So, assuming 1,400 government employees sign up for Olympic duty, the secondments would cost at least $7 million a month. Assuming an average of four months on the Olympic roster and you reach a cost of about $28 million.

But is it “average civil servants” they want?

The sort of highly skilled people the Olympics are calling for are at the higher pay grade and they are often unionized employees. You can bet there will be scads of overtime to go around.

If they are to be highly skilled and “higher pay grade” (whatever that means) aren’t they more likely to be management? And thus exempt – both from union membership and overtime? And what happened to all those people who really did volunteer? Did those numbers start to decline? I seem to recall that the Olympic organisers were pretty choosy about who they selected from those who put themselves forward with no expectation of pay but probably hoped for a close up views of events and the chance to rub shoulders with the famous athletes.

In the strange world we now occupy, none of the real issues facing us are getting dealt with in any effective way. But huge amounts of effort are going to propping up failed corporations, failed policies and politicians who get elected by telling people only what they think people should hear. There are academics who study what happens when civilizations collapse. And there seem to be some common features – especially the behaviour of elites. And this is more than just facile parallels to the “bread and circuses” of the Roman Empire that Olympic critics are fond of pointing to. It really does seem that our elected leaders care more about their own hold on power  than what they are doing with it – other than, of course, enriching themselves.  For the last twenty years we have known about the connection between fossil fuel use and climate. The idea of peak oil is similarly well established – as well as the other limits to growth. Yet we have continued to be obsessed with doing everything possible to expand consumption and ignore the consequences. We continue to find reasons to fight each other and spend more and more on ever more destructive wars. The number of species continues to decline – mostly because we devastate landscapes – burning down forests, blowing the tops of mountains, dragging huge trawl nets along the sea bed and discarding much of the catch, poisoning our rivers and wrecking soil fertility. You can even Choose Your Own Apocalypse

That site is about the collapse of America – but the rest of the world is no more secure. And neither the BC government or the government of Canada is doing anything significant – other than messing around in the hopes that the economy will pick up again soon and business as usual can return and enough people can be persuaded to vote conservative (note the small “c “please) next time.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 10, 2009 at 7:51 am

Posted in Olympics, politics

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