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Pan Am be damned

Michael Jamal

June 20, 2015

As the summer vacation readily approaches us, many of us are eagerly planning outings with our families and loved ones. One obvious option is the heavily promoted 2015 Pan Am Games and the Para Pan Am games which will be hosted by Toronto and neighbouring municipalities from July 10-26 and August 7-15, respectively.

The elites of the city are only too eager to promote what is a very modest sporting event to the citizens of this city and the few tourists that may vacation in the city during these periods.  

While there do exist a few benefits to the city, such as the addition of more sports complexes and the creation of a few thousand temporary jobs, the numerous costs and challenges to city residents posed by the hosting of these events far outweigh any potential benefits.

No austerity for the rich?

At a time when all three levels of government mercilessly slash services and social programs, the lavish costs of the Pan Am games is a slap in the face. Even though the games haven’t yet started, current estimates for the Pan Am games are already staggering. According to the Government of Ontario, the multi-sports events are expected to cost at least $2.5 billion.  

This amount also includes a $247 million budget for event security alone, which is more than double its original estimate. Another large component of this expense is the pay out in salaries to the Organizing Committee, projected to exceed $21 million in 2015, including over 66 members making over $100,000.  

At the top of this pyramid stands CEO Saad Rafi, currently earning an annual salary of over $428,000, plus a severance package that will effectively double his earnings at the end of the year.  At a time when many workers in both Ontario’s public and private sectors face frozen wages and stagnant incomes, this trend is quite alarming. 

Two-tiered transit

If the above financial impact isn’t alarming enough, the impact on travel during the summer certainly will be. Last November, the provincial government unveiled it’s so-called transit plan for the greater Toronto area, which called for the expansion of 235 km of temporary HOV lanes on major Ontario highways—including highway’s 427, 404 and 401, the QEW and Gardiner Expressway.  

These special lanes will be reserved for athletes, delegates and vehicles carrying at least three persons. This will effectively make one lane in each direction of these highway’s a “VIP” lane for the aforementioned groups, blocking them off from regular traffic 24 hours a day for the duration of these games. Considering the fact that due to the provincial government’s decades long neglect of public transit in the GTA  (we already experience among the highest average commute times in north America), this decision is reckless and short-sighted. We can only guess the devastation that further increased delay’s will have on the psyches of tens of thousands of worker’s who must use these highway’s to commute to their workplaces.

Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that successive Conservative and Liberal governments in Ontario cancelled and delayed mass transit projects—supposedly due to a lack of money—only to have the same policy makers happily sign cheques to contractors for projects related to these games. 

Whose city?

Today tens of thousands lack affordable housing and affordable daycare placements as the federal Conservatives and provincial Liberals claim that there’s no money for them. Yet, these same bureaucrats gladly commit to billions of dollars for a regional sports event. It is no wonder that cynicism of the political process is at an all time high!

The Ontario and Toronto governments have arrogantly and unilaterally imposed these games without public consultation or open discussion. We did not ask for these games, when countless historical examples serve to show that international sporting events such as these leave a legacy of empty stadiums and public debts. At the same time, a few privileged pockets in the construction, real estate and tourism sectors cash in huge windfalls of taxpayer-financed profits.

The Pam Am games will be preceded by the Climate Summit of the Americas, which will commit to more failed market strategies. Keynote speakers include Quebec premier Phillip Couillard and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who will be congratulating themselves on their cap-and-trade plan while they both continue to support ecocidal tar sands. There will also be a Pan American Economic Summit that Harper will attend.

But protests against the games have already begun, from physicians who interrupted Amateur Sport Minister Bal Gosal’s announcement of the games in 2012 to protest government cuts to refugee health, to anti-poverty march this year denouncing the lack of affordable housing.

As well as boycotting the games, there will be a number of opportunities to reclaim the city this July—including the July 5 March for Jobs, Justice and the Climate, a July 8 protest of the Pan-American economic and climate summits, and the Toronto People’s Social Forum July 10-11. 

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