Thursday, July 8, 2010

HST huckster quietly regains Olympic portfolio

Guess who's the Olympic minister again?

Yes, Colin Hansen. The finance minister. He gave the reins to the Olympic Games Secretariat to rookie MLA Mary McNeil on June 9, 2009 -- less than a month after the Liberals' election win and six weeks before announcing the Harmonized Sales Tax would be forced on British Columbians on July 1, 2010.

On June 30 -- the eve of the HST -- Premier Gordon Campbell returned the OGS to Hansen's hands by way of an order-in-council that was not publicized. I found out when a Freedom of Information clerk told me that the Ministry of Healthy Living's Olympic records were transferred to Finance.

So the high huckster of the hated HST is now in charge of overseeing the wind-down of the government agency responsible for the Games and VANOC.

VANOC hasn't published financial information since December, in violation of a clause in the Multi-Party Agreement of 2002. See sections 4.4 and 26.1 It's supposed to issue a final report this fall.

After VANOC dealt with a recession for which it was not prepared, it held its hand out to governments because sponsors were cutting budgets and tightening belts. Ultimately any red ink is the responsibility of provincial taxpayers.

Now, is it starting to become clear why the HST happened in the former host province?

Olympic cauldron now relic of 2010's "Surveillance Games"

A technician installs a surveillance camera under the central burner of the Olympic cauldron in Vancouver on July 7, 2010. (Bob Mackin photo)

A surveillance camera was embedded in the Vancouver 2010 Olympic cauldron in Jack Poole Plaza on July 7. (Bob Mackin photo)

They say Jack Poole was watching over the 2010 Winter Olympics.

He's the chairman of VANOC who died after a battle with pancreatic cancer on Oct. 23, 2009 just hours after the Olympic flame was lit in Ancient Olympia, Greece. I was having lunch in Varda, Greece -- across from the Vancouver Cafe (I kid you not) -- when I got the call with the sad news.

Premier Gordon Campbell named the plaza west of the Vancouver Convention Centre Jack Poole Plaza earlier that month. VANOC erected a mysterious white box there and built the Games' outdoor cauldron, which Wayne Gretzky lit on Feb. 12, 2010.

The fences and barricades were unpopular, to say the least. The last of the chain link was dismantled in time for Canada Day when the cauldron was relit. No ceremony on the day the Harmonized Sales Tax was introduced. An anonymous person behind the scenes in a control room turned it on and off.

On July 7, anti-poverty activists from Vancouver handed off their makeshift, toilet plunger torch to a like-minded activist from England who will give it to an anti-poverty group in London, host of the 2012 Summer Games.

While their ceremony was happening, I noticed two fellas preparing to install a surveillance camera under the central burner of the sculpture. The sun was shining and the story gods were smiling on me. See my exclusive video here.

Not only has the permanent monument to Vancouver 2010 been altered, but it now has attached to it the very item that caused civil libertarians and anti-Olympic protesters to cry foul before the Games and criticize the $900 million, taxpayer-funded security apparatus. Queen's University Prof. David Lyon called Vancouver 2010 the "Surveillance Games."

So Jack Poole may still be watching over Vancouver, but now Big Brother is watching everyone who goes to admire the cauldron. Granted, it is inside a wading pool and some drunk and/or daredevil might want to climb the cauldron. But does a surveillance camera have to be embedded in the sculpture? Could spy cameras have been erected on adjacent buildings and warning signs placed strategically to achieve the same safety objective?

Now the cauldron is like a four-legged spider.

After the Olympic glow is gone, will it become the 21st century cousin to the Terry Fox Memorial outside B.C. Place Stadium? Another ugly, poorly maintained monument to a man who dreamed big and courageously battled cancer?

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