Thursday, November 12, 2009

More fizzle than boom from Games benefits so far

Unless things change significantly, the economic benefits of the Winter Games are looking pretty thin.
Take jobs, one of the big selling points.
According to an economic study done for government by
PriceWaterhouseCoopers, having the Games created about 18,400 person years of employment from 2003 to the end of last year.
That sounds dramatic, but spread over six years it's about 3,000 additional jobs at any given time.
Nothing to sneer at, but with about 2.2 million people employed in the province, not that significant either.
Especially when at least some increased employment would have resulted if the money spent on the Games went for other projects or was left in taxpayers' pockets.
The report on increased economic activity from the Games tells a similar story. The report found that the Games had meant an extra $685 million to $890 million in economic activity over the six-year period.
Take the midpoint, and that's about $130 million a year.
Given that the provincial GDP is about $150 billion, that's less than one-tenth of one per cent.
You could argue that these results aren't surprising. They're consistent with a forecast of Games benefits done for the government in 2002.
But they're a far cry from the rosy picture painted by politicians talking about the dramatic economic benefits from next year's festivities.
And in one area - possibly the most important for British Columbians outside Greater Vancouver and Whistler - the forecast got it badly wrong.
The 2002 report predicted increased tourism revenues during the period of $40 to $600 million between 2003 and 2008.
Based on the midpoint, that would have translated into some 6,500 person-years of increased employment
The PriceWaterhouseCoopers report found there was no increase in tourism as a result of the Olympics. The expectation that increased awareness would lead to more visitors to the province was wrong. The report estimates the Games have likely meant about 10 additional jobs in the tourism sector each year.
That should be a particular concern to communities outside the immediate Games area. Vancouver, Richmond, Surrey and Whistler all end up with guaranteed Games legacies - buildings and infrastructure. Much of the spending by Games organizers, from salaries to supplies, also benefited those communities. And realistically, the promised potential future investment is likely to provide the greatest boost to those areas.
The rest of the province has fared less well. Leaving aside nice but hardly essential items like Spirit Squares, the Games so far have represented a transfer of tax dollars to the Lower Mainland.
Tourism gains should have broader benefits. The theory is that travellers, newly aware of B.C.'s charms because of the Games, would likely venture beyond the Lower Mainland.
According to the 2002 report, the biggest tourism gains are still ahead. It set out several scenarios, but the mid-range forecast projected about $2.9 billion in increased tourism because of the Games between 2008 and 2014.
The failure to achieve the increase forecast for the initial period raises doubts about those numbers.
It's especially troubling that the failure might be partly self-inflicted. The PWC report notes the 2002 projections envisioned that "a co-ordinated and effective marketing plan would be in place" before the Games. It wasn't.
The government had warnings about the problem. In 2003, the auditor general noted a well-planned, well-funded marketing effort was needed to seize the potential benefits from the Games.
In a follow-up report in 2006, the auditor general noted that hasn't happened. "The marketing effort to date has been delayed and unco-ordinated, with no central agency taking the lead," the report warned.
The confusion continues. Tourism Minister Kevin Krueger eliminated Tourism B.C., the highly regarded industry marketing agency, without warning of consultation in August.
The big opportunities for tourism promotion are coming in the next three or four months.
For British Columbians outside Greater Vancouver, benefits from the Games depend on how well the job is handled.
Footnote: It's important to note that the benefits, except for tourism, are much as projected in the 2002 report. Which raises questions about the level of scrutiny and analysis brought to the report by journalists and politicians and policy groups. The pro-Games rhetoric drowned out the few cautionary voices.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The bigger problem at B.C. Ferries

It's understandable that the comptroller general's findings about overly rich executive and board pay and sloppy governance at B.C. Ferries grabbed headlines.
But the report raised a much more serious problem. The new structure for ferry service the Liberal government set up in 2003 failed to provide any criteria for considering the public interest, in terms of travellers, ferry dependent communities or the economic impacts of soaring fares.
The Times Colonist set out the problems clearly in this editorial.
Will the government act? One bad sign is that the comptroller general's recommendations included having the Ferry Commission regulate reservation fees, currently outside its mandate. The commissioner has been seeking that small change since 2004,. noting that the fees - $17.50 and a $12-million revenue stream for the corporation - are part of the fare structure.
In nine years, the government hasn't responded to that basic request.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

UVic hits the media motherlode

The University of Victoria has a superb communications department, consistently providing interesting and useful leads for journalists and great at finding an expert in almost any area.
But this release is inspired. The interest in anything Twilight is extraordinary. TIming is excellent. And the issues are important.
This is really good work.


TWILIGHT SERIES SENDS WRONG MESSAGE TO GIRLS: According to UVic political science professor Janni Aragon, the Twilight vampire movies and books don’t provide a healthy portrayal of the interaction between the sexes. That is just one of the points she makes when she uses the series as a teaching tool in her gender and politics class at UVic.
“Bella Swan is a human teenager, moody, sardonic and clumsy which plays into how Edward Cullen interacts with her—he’s protective, condescending and behaves like a stalker,” says Aragon. “He watches her while she’s sleeping even though he hasn’t been invited to do so. He talks down to her, which plays into the myth that in a relationship boys are all knowing and girls are supposed to follow and listen to them.”
Aragon remarks that in the beginning of the series, Bella doesn't have a very strong sense of self. She leans on Edward, falls apart when he leaves. “He has bigger burdens to carry, since he’s a vampire and she is a mere mortal teen,” says Aragon. “He is in charge—and takes care of Bella, who continues to be the damsel in distress.
“In New Moon, Bella suffers a horrible depression when Edward abandons her. She has visions and starts being reckless which sends a message to young women that when your boyfriend leaves, the expectation is for you to be out of control. In real life, not every woman does that—some of us just consume a couple of tubs of Häagen-Dazs and we’re over it.”
Aragon says she also has issues on how the Stephanie Meyer books and films address Indigenous people. For example, the vampires refer to them as mongrels or dogs.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon, the second movie in the Twilight series, is scheduled to open on November 20, 2009.

Why I'm glad an MLA is bashing the Charter of Rights

On one hand, MLA Pat Pimm's preference for getting rid of the Charter or Rights is alarming. It suggests that he's a lot more comfortable with government intrusions into the private lives of citizens than he should be.
But it is refreshing to have a new MLA who isn't sticking to a script crafted by communication staff. Pimm is, so far, apparently willing to say what he thinks, even if it's not in line with party policy.
Pimm is a Liberal, newly elected in Peace River North to replace Senator Richard Neufeld.
And in one of his first speeches, during debate on a bill to deny welfare to people facing outstanding arrest warrants, he took aim at the Charter.
"I just don't think it's a good document whatsoever myself," Pimm said in the legislature. "For 99 per cent of the people out there, that document doesn't even need to exist, first off. It's only about one per cent or two per cent of the people that it's even developed for, and it's to keep the lawyers and the judges and everybody working to support the system." (Thanks to the Lower Langdale Tattler, an irregular publication of NDP MLA Nicholas Simons, for reporting Pimm's comments.)
What the Charter does is set out the basic rights of Canadians. We can say what we think and follow our religious beliefs without government intrusion. Basic principles of justice have to be followed if the state wants to interfere with our lives.
Police can, for example, search our homes, but only if they have a good reason.
Pimm's position appears to be that decent citizens don't need their rights protected. Governments know best about what must be done for the greater good.
That's too trusting. The world is celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a reminder that governments can't always be counted in to respect the rights of citizens.
It is troubling when a drug dealer avoids trial because a police search violated his rights.
But that's the trade we make for enshrining the rule of law and our own freedom from government messing in our lives.
Still. Pimm was speaking his mind. A lot of his constituents would likely share his views. That's good for an MLA. And not all that common.
MLAs and cabinet ministers, especially in government, tend to avoid saying anything.
Consider the example recently offered by Ida Chong, junior minister for healthy living. Two health officials in Alberta have been fired because the Calgary Flames jumped the queue for H1N1 flu vaccinations.
So Chong was asked whether the Vancouver Canucks would get special access to flu shots, ahead of vulnerable members of the public.
The answer should be easy. No, the vaccine would be provided based on health needs. A vulnerable five-year-old or pregnant woman would be protected before an incredibly fit professional hockey player.
But Chong instead, offered this response. "I believe that what is important is that those who need access to this vaccine to mitigate the possible spread will be looked at by our health experts," she said.
It was an easy question. On principle, should the survival of a child come before the playoff chances and profitability of hockey team?
And Chong is no fool. But politicians are told to say nothing. And they do, even when it makes them look ridiculous.
All in all, I'm rooting for Pimm. The voters sent him down to the legislature to speak for them, based on his experience in business, community sports and municipal government. They know him. He's wrong on the importance of the Charter, but at least he is saying what he thinks.
Imagine 85 MLAs, from all across the province, with different individual skills and experience and perspectives, debating and listening and learning from each other and really shaping government policy. Still committed to core party principles, but not blindly.
That's how our government is supposed to work. Our representatives, making decisions based on their best judgments about what is good for the people they represent.
Instead, MLAs sign up for their teams and do what they're told.
Footnote: You can judge the level of MLAs' independence. The legislature sessions are televised, though they're off this week. Question period, about 1:50 p.m., offers a chance to assess their efforts and let them know what you think.