Own the spending issue - Macleans.ca

Own the spending issue

Is there a few million in the budget for future Olympic medallists?


A few weeks back I tried making the case for tax hikes over spending cuts as the main way the federal government should tackle its deficit problem. My argument relied heavily on the rather obvious observation that not spending is hard. I rhymed off a list of stuff people don’t like governments to scrimp on: funding schools, filling potholes, equipping soldiers, and—this was before the Vancouver games opened—winning Olympic medals.

Today, Michael Ignatieff left little doubt that after the West Coast gold rush, his Liberals aren’t going to let the Conservatives off easy the last of my just-for-instances. Ignatieff threw his support behind the plea from the athletes’ lobby for Ottawa double its contribution to the winter sports portion of the Own the Podium program to $22 million from $11 million.

That amount would be enough for Ottawa to make up for corporate sponsorship that’s expected to melt away like snow from the slopes of Cypress Mountain now that the games are over. But every signal from the federal Tories, so far, has been to urge the private sector to ante up again instead, since sports can’t be exempted from a broad policy of no new measures in Thursday’s budget. (Well, make that no new extravagant measures.)

Speaking on Parliament Hill a couple of hours ago, Ignatieff made the case that paying for Olympic medals is really an investment in wider participation, especially among kids. Expect to hear this again and again.

“I can’t understand the government’s position on this,” he told reporters. “Canadians understand that by investing in the top of the pyramid of our sporting activities, we broaden the base. We know what our objective is here. We want the great ones, like Jen Heil and Bilodeau and Hamelin, to inspire athletes on every ski hill and every little arena in the country.”

It’s a reasonable case, of course. And the Tories learned the hard way, in the form of the punishing hit they took in Quebec last election over smallish arts cuts, that a bit of restraint can cause wildly disproportionate pain during a campaign.

So this is shaping up  as a key test case for the budget. Do the Conservatives really mean that all spending is to be frozen? Or will a last-minute decision to find a few million for Olympic athletes be the first concession to a more typical patchwork that reflect policy priorities and political exigencies?


Own the spending issue

  1. Way Too Late! Jack got this in weeks ago – the timing would have been much better if Iggy had come out last week – WHEN the press was bad then it would have shown political courage like layton had otherwise it's just more libbie fluff in the wind ….

  2. "to inspire athletes on every ski hill and every little arena in the country"

    Arenas maybe, but is he seriously suggesting that most Canadian families can afford to support budding ski athletes?

    And will participation in sports really suffer if our medal hauls aren't formidable?

    • Sports participation dropoff occurs most frequently through ages 12-16. And, when those teenagers drop out, they are never heard from again.

      Moguls programs in Canada have gone from spaces available to 200 kid waitlist in the time in the past 2 weeks. Many winter sports experienced a similar bump from Turin. Good performance increases visibility of the sport, which increases the likelihood some boob-tube addicted child will see the event and be somehow moved to want to "be like Alex!".

      Poor performance doesn't have that same impact, because we have that sense of self-preservation not to advertise what we don't do well. Our smaller summer Olympic hauls, as a result, don't have the same effect on participation. They often find their most consistent base of registration in the kids whose parents think that a child's bucket list must include playing soccer and learning to swim.

      • Swimming and soccer are generally affordable and accessible. The former provides survival skills too, as a bonus.

        Moguls, not so much.

      • "Poor performance doesn't have that same impact, because we have that sense of self-preservation not to advertise what we don't do well'

        I don't really buy this. In england where the national soccer team never misses an opportunity to disappoint, i think you'll find no drop off in soccer cracy kids wanting to succeed. Perhaps it's only the more obscure sports that suffer? I certainly wont be ebcouraging my kid to take up luge.

        • Soccer in England is going to pretty much be a permanent exception to any such effect, just like hockey in Canada. But I'm sure you'd find some sort of effect on the more obscure sports; you'd almost have to, just given the increased exposure that comes along with good Canadian performance. (How many Canadians even know that field hockey is an Olympic sport? Wanna bet that number would increase many-fold if Canada had a good showing?)

          • Good point.

  3. Forget government and corporations. The TV ratings for Olympics are huge. Where's the COC's slice of that?

    • Sent to the International Olympics Committee, in order to make sure that they can… uh.. ..you know, I'm not really sure what the IOC does with the money. I may be wrong, but aren't most of the expenses of the Olympics farmed out to the host city? Or does the Olympics pay for the refs and the drug testing and the like?

  4. How Canadian of us to turn to "government" for added funding of athletics. Let the feds match corporate donations up to for half of the the full $22 Million being sought.
    The biggest reason Canada has been celebrating the past few weeks is we're fed up with negativity!
    Every last one of our athletes did us proud, striving for excellence and achievement.
    We already do pour tens of billions every year into health care, education, 'equalization', pensions, police and courts, the military, First Nations – the CBC, bilingualism, multiculturalism, the arts, libraries, museums…welfare. And yes, millions upon millions to care for and house the “homeless” who pour into the BC Lower Mainland from everywhere else in Canada.
    This once, we've spent less than three billion – capital assets and improvements aside – staging a national event that gave boundless inspiration and pleasure to almost every single Canadian. We threw an unforgettable party.
    Those people who never stop complaining – I wonder if most of them even pay taxes.

  5. …be encouraging..

  6. To tie this back to my first point – when you don't bring in new blood to replace the loss of participants, your sport – and your national operating budget – shrinks considerably, and you no longer have enough funding to support your elite programs. From there, it's a downward cycle of not achieving the performance results you would like, to not getting the Olympic bump, etc.

  7. I dunno, I've gotten to the point where I really don't care what Iggy has to say on the issues any longer. Oddly, I'm not sure why.

    • Me too!

      • Ditto!

  8. Iggy as jock? Not gonna fly. And to which base is he playing? Leftists aren't exactly well known for their love of sports.

    • Ignatieff was quite the sportsman in his day. Captain of UCC's first soccer team, if you can believe it.

      • Most of us peons call them "athletes" these days.

  9. Like I have said here before, Iggy is dead as a door nail! After all these events they call shocking on behalf of Harper and his gang, no traction! Slipping in the polls again and in third place as preferred leader of our country the man needs to go back where he came from.


  10. The programme should be renamed. It is really all about "Buy the Podium". We now know that previously, the Olympics represented "Dope Your Way to the Podium" for many countries. I am no longer convinced that the Olympics represent the high, lofty, honourable qualities that the Games used to portray. All the parties support continued financing for the athletes now, because to do otherwise would be deadly considering that the present mood in the country is "We are the Champions". Let's keep our priorities in tact, remembering who we are as Canadians.

  11. No question, Canada needs to reduce all federal expenses (not social) & bump GST, but ONLY to reduce debt. AND TO HELP OUR CANADIAN ATHLETES, let's take back the salaries of all MP's (members of prorogue) who took a well paid holiday while our Olympians showed the world what dedication, hard work, determination & a positive team spirit can bring to a country. And Mr. Ignatieff, Mr. Layton, & senators, put your money where your mouths are & do the same. Our athletes did more for business, patriotism, Canadian self-esteem & world wide PR than any of these self serving, loud mouthed, hackneyed, poll driven, burdens of society have achieved in 12 years. Let's give our deserving Olympic hopefuls our politicians' pay, and let the politicians beg for their salaries from the budgets of their party & small companies (no corporate lobbing allowed).