By Cathy Wilander and Eric Doherty
Many people are asking: Why protest the Olympics when the money is already spent and most of the damage is done?
The reason we will be out on the streets on Friday (February 12) to welcome the Olympic torch and opening ceremony is to highlight the real story and the real costs of the Games and related projects. An informed public is our best hope of stopping such multi-billion-dollar boondoggles in the future.
If the truth about these Games is not exposed, more destructive megaprojects will follow, and B.C. residents will be left paying off the debt, breathing the pollution, and watching global warming spiral out of control. But if we speak up loud and clear, public resources can be redirected toward making our province a better place to live instead of financing the destruction of our environment and communities.
The 2010 Winter Olympics have been branded the “Greenest Games”. But the Games are linked to a massive freeway expansion scheme which is already boosting consumption of tar sands oil and funnelling dirty money into the pockets of Olympic sponsors such as General Motors, Petro-Canada, the Royal Bank, and TransCanada Pipelines. The previous Winter Games in Italy were bad enough, but at least they included a pledge to avoid any major roadway expansion. The 2010 Games are a huge step backwards for environmental standards at the Olympics.
The Olympic Sea-to-Sky Highway expansion was not needed—the existing rail line and highway would have been sufficient with modest upgrades. But Olympic insiders insisted on a $980-million highway expansion, deciding that a few minutes travel time for VIPs is worth increasing global warming and destroying wildlife habitat. That public money, almost a billion dollars, could have paid for quality passenger rail service across the province for years to come.
The Sea-to-Sky Highway expansion is now complete, and we will be paying off the debt for decades to come. But the Sea-to-Sky Highway is only one part of a massive freeway and highway-building binge in B.C. Just two of the Gateway Program freeways in Metro Vancouver (Highway 1-Port Mann Bridge and the proposed South Fraser Perimeter Road freeway) would cost about $5 billion. The short section of Gateway freeway proposed for downtown New Westminister could cost another billion, bringing the total to $6 billion. Start adding up all the freeway projects planned across the province, and the bill quickly reaches $12 billion, twice the cost of what many B.C. residents are already calling the “Owe-lympics”.
The Olympics have blown a $6-billion hole in the public purse, but Gateway is set to blow an even bigger hole in B.C.’s finances. The proposed South Fraser freeway alone could take $2 billion away from transit, energy efficiency, housing, education, health care, arts funding, and other public priorities. Only minor preparatory work has been done on this unnecessary and environmentally disastrous project; it is not a done deal. Many freeway projects have been stopped after construction started—all it takes is public opposition and a financial crunch. The Georgia Viaduct was originally planned as a four-mile long freeway through Chinatown and East Vancouver, but public opposition and a budget squeeze left only an orphaned section now potentially slated for demolition.
Gateway is only partly funded, and the post Owe-lympic financial mess will provide a unique opportunity to re-assess our public spending priorities. The question is whether people will take advantage of the unprecedented media attention during the Games to say “No” to continuing the multi-billion-dollar freeway expansion binge that started with the Sea-to-Sky highway.
You can visit www.gatewaysucks.org/freeway-olympics for information on how to get involved in scrubbing the greenwash off the Sea-to-Sky climate crime, and re-allocating billions from freeways to public transit and other priorities. Join us on Friday at 3 p.m. at the Vancouver Art Gallery to say no to corporate greenwashing and yes to a sustainable future for B.C.
Cathy Wilander is the chair of the Delta-Richmond chapter of the Council of Canadians.
Eric Doherty is a member of GatewaySucks.org and lives in East Vancouver.