Olympic athletes, yes; foreign aid, no - Macleans.ca

Olympic athletes, yes; foreign aid, no


There’s something missing from the flood of reaction over the past few days to the federal Speech from the Throne and 2010 budget. Two decisions that should be connected, and contrasted, haven’t been. A lesson about how well the Conservative government understands Canadians has been missed.

The throne speech was shot through with pride and patriotism drawing on two recent events: the Haitian earthquake and the Vancouver Olympics. The games were said to show that sometimes “festive hearts and the sharing of a common humanity are our greatest hope.” Our response to Haiti’s need was invoked to demonstrate that we “never shrink from lending a helping hand to the most disadvantaged.”

Then came the budget. Even though the government had clearly signaled that funding for elite athletes would not be boosted, they found the money. The so-called “Own the Podium” fund for medal-prospect athletes for the next summer Olympics was boosted by $6 million a year to $36 million. Another $10 million over two years was earmarked for identifying and developing other top-flight amateur athletes.

In the lasting excitement over the Vancouver gold rush, who could fault the government for finding a way? It’s not a large sum in the scheme of things.

Unlike the pre-budget buzz about whether the government would allocate new money to sports, there wasn’t much talk about what was in store for foreign aid. If it had occurred to anyone to speculate, the good feelings generated by Canada’s assistance to Haiti after the January earthquake would surely have coloured the conversation.

More than at any time in recent memory, Haiti’s misery seemed to unite Canadians in a shared sense of obligation. It wasn’t just a matter of emergency aid, either—much of the discussion surrounding Haiti was about the need for long-term development assistance to follow the disaster.

However, unlike the way the Vancouver Olympics afterglow created a political imperative to boost sports funding, any lingering pride over Canada’s part in helping Haiti apparently didn’t figure in budget planning.

The budget announced that after a final increase in aid spending this year, funding for foreign assistance will be frozen at $5 billion—leaving Canada near the bottom of the heap of rich countries in terms of the share of our wealth that we set aside to ease the suffering of the poorest nations and perhaps speed their economic development.

And here’s the part that should make us all ashamed. The government probably called it right, in terms of the popular reaction. Had sports funding not gotten a boost, there would certainly have been a heated outcry. Making aid spending the single biggest target of restraint has been met mostly with cold indifference.


Olympic athletes, yes; foreign aid, no

  1. So we should be ashamed that the government follows the popular will of the people ?

    Shameful indeed, that democracy thing which so offends you superior folk..

    • The popular will of the people …… I'll have to enlist the help of my friend Diogenes to find
      some of that. Where should we start ? Southwest Calgary ? Renfrew ?

    • No, I think he's saying that the people should be ashamed that they are more interested in funding the Olympics than foreign aid.

      • I'm more interested in funding the Olympics than foreign aid. And utterly unashamed of it.

        If we really wanted to help out overseas, we'd cut our farm subsidies and remove barriers to access to Canadian markets for foreign producers. Let them sell us stuff, and thrive!

        But we don't. We just want to feel good about ourselves. For that, I prefer Olympic gold medals to money going into Swiss bank accounts.

    • No, not at all. We should be abjectly ashamed that the popular will of the people cares more about shiny things than people's lives.

      But that's if that's true.

      I hope it is not, and only the loud, I-don't-care-enough-to-pay-attention-but-I-can-sure-voice-my-opinion types have presented a flawed picture.

  2. I am disappointed that foreign aid has been frozen. But look at the numbers again. $36 million/yr plus $10 million over 2 years for "amateur" sports – that's $41 million a year, or $0.041 billion. Foreign aid: $5 billion a year.

    I would personally prefer the government had spent its money on foreign aid rather than slashing corporate taxes. But the comparison with Olympics funding doesn't particularly work, as $41 million yearly would have been, in relative terms, a miniscule increase in foreign aid.

    • Well said. You could make a moral case that money we spend on all sorts of things should be going to foreign aid, whether it's bridges or R&D (hi Paul!) or tax cuts (hi Andrew!) or the Liberal Party (hi Aaron!).

      The much better comparator is where we stand relative to other wealthy nations, which Geddes also points out…

      • I've sent an email to Flaherty suggesting either stopping reductions in non-small-business corporate taxes (currently at 18%, being reduced by 1.5% per year) or ending oil and gas subsidies would free up more money for foreign aid. Come to think of it, I could also have mentioned ending government funding for those partisan mailings.

    • Good point. This isn't a case of take from one to give to the other…increased funding for elite sport doesn't mean that it was taken from foreign aid. An athlete is paid a measly $18,000 a year to represent their country. Many have undergraduate degrees at least, and could START at twice that if they chose to work instead of compete. It's a financial sacrifice to be an elite athlete in this country, nevermind trying to raise a family on that…meanwhile we give MPs bonuses of $76,000 on TOP of salary. That seems fair.

      • I've occasionally wondered what the effect on elections would be if candidates bid for the job; that is, as part of their election platform, were required to specify the pay they would receive if elected. We might get more voters out if those who think government backbenchers cost too much could vote for the cheapest candidate.

        I'm surprised those parties that champion free enterprise have not made this reform a plank in their platform.

        • Well…. we'd probably actually end up with more wealthy businessmen in Parliament, or more inheritors of wealth. The necessity of having two residences (at home, and in Ottawa) and of flying between them (if you don't live in south-central Canada) makes it fairly expensive to be an MP. People who had already built up a lot of wealth could bid for a lower salary, because they wouldn't need the money.

          I rather like having more average (in terms of wealth) people become MPs, and I don't think the tradeoffs in terms of government spending would make a large difference to the budget overall.

        • On a tangentially related thought, I wonder why the directors of corporations don't use a similar approach when selecting CEO's.

    • I would prefer my tax dollars going to Canadians in need and there are a lot of them in this country. Our foriegn is misused grossly and a blind eye is turned because we have no courage to deal issues. We do the Pearson roll over. Our school system is fauling, our medical system is hurting, our infastructure in cities is crumbling , we pay too much tax, we expose our men and women in the armed forces to death by ill equiping them. The greatest contribution to foriegn aid is our very generous immigration system

  3. Maybe the fact that so many Canadians opened up their own wallets for Haiti demonstrated that we didn't need so much mandatory generosity with our tax dollars?

    As proud as the Games made us all feel, I haven't heard of any similar boost in private donations to our future Olympians.

    • According to leftists, it's not giving if it's not the government doing it.

      • According to rightists it's socialism if there is a government at all(except if bombs are involved). I thought we could get the crazy generalizations out the way.

        • The title of this post is a crazy generalization: "Olympic athletes, yes; foreign aid, no"

          • Sounds like you still believe truthisms are crazy. Guess that makes you one of Harper's army.

  4. Let's combine the two and outsource our training facilities to third world nations!

  5. I'm ashamed of our government and the freezing of our foreign aid. To be near the bottom of the richest countries means that we are shirking out international responsibilities. This means that our government has more pride in having the lowest corporate tax rate, but are also satisfied with having the lowest aid funding.[polldaddy 2807579 http://answers.polldaddy.com/poll/2807579/ polldaddy]

  6. Your kid misses out on a scholarship opportunity, at great cost to you, because she must wait a year for surgery.

    You are outraged at ridiculous fuel prices imposed by a government using the green theology to disguise 30 years of neglect in maintaining and developing the transportation system.

    Your local utility spends thousands in advertising to convince you that it is better to snuggle under a blanket than have your house at comfortable temperature while watching their commercial on TV.

    Our kids have trouble getting into their schools of choice because we need foreign student's cash.

    You read about a very elderly lady who passed away having been moved to a facility two hours away from her spouse of six decades because it is efficient to treat patients like pallets of materiel – put them where there is space.

    Your immune compromised parent with cancer spends two days in emergency for treatment in a bed next to an MRSA patient because there are no beds.

    Clearly Ottawa is not spending enough on the Olympics or foreign aid. The wonderful thing is that both of those things are directly under our control. There are numerous ways we can individually contribute to these causes as much as we feel is our moral obligation without imposing these weighty decisions on the Government – or our neighbours.

  7. The throne speech was shot through with pride and patriotism drawing on two recent events: the Haitian earthquake and the Vancouver Olympics. The games were said to show that sometimes “festive hearts and the sharing of a common humanity are our greatest hope.” Our response to Haiti's need was invoked to demonstrate that we “never shrink from lending a helping hand to the most disadvantaged.”

    The line below impressed me a lot.

  8. The budget announced that after a final increase in aid spending this year, funding for foreign assistance will be frozen at $5 billion – that was great to see.