Sports fanatics clouding Penticton political decisions

Writer says Penticton politicians not thinking clearly.

It is heartwarming that the council has rallied around a beleaguered mayor as he defends the actions surrounding the Eckhardt Avenue dormitory sale.

It is particularly notable that even councillors who were not involved in the sale have rushed to the mayor’s defence. Notable, but also disturbing.

The council is behaving like a cabinet appointed by the mayor, rather than as a body of individually elected representatives, and cabinet-like behaviour means that there can be no opposition. As commentators and political scientists are consistently telling us, government without opposition leads to complacency, stagnation and even corruption.

I am not saying that, in this case, the new councillors were obliged to oppose. They may, in fact, be satisfied with the explanation, but they surely could have abstained from endorsing a process in which they had no part. Even councillor John Vassilaki, who originally opposed the sale, now apparently supports it. It also seems appropriate to comment on the creation of a new industry in the city — the hockey industry.

This infelicitous term surely originates with the mayor who keeps on producing them. We have “world class” to describe the events centre when it is clearly just an ordinary, if overpriced, hockey arena. When the council discusses the future it apparently indulges in “visioning” and our poor administrators, after hunkering in their silos during the mayor’s first term, are now emerging into daylight.

The hockey industry is apparently a term by which the mayor had intended to emphasize the importance of the Okanagan Hockey School and the Okanagan Hockey Academy. Apparently these have a major impact on our city injecting millions of dollars into our local economy.

There is no doubt that the hockey school and academy bring people into the city and employ some people — but at what cost? Do the benefits outweigh the cost? We don’t know. Does anyone know? Has a cost/benefit study by an independent analyst even been attempted?

It is all very impressive to talk vaguely about millions of dollars, but without any figures such blustering is meaningless.

It should be emphasized that the hockey school and academy have no premises of their own. They have made no capital contributions to the city and rely entirely on facilities provided by the city. According to the council’s letter, they were even incapable of coming up with the capital to provide their own dormitory accommodation.

We need to know if the benefits gained from the operation of this profit-making company exceed the costs that the city has entered into to supply its needs. Is it possible for anyone to clarify this issue? Vague, grandiose utterances by the mayor simply don’t suffice.

In relation to the above it seems appropriate to quote from a recent article in the sports section of the Vancouver Sun entitled “Build it, but will they come?” (March 3, 2012, section G, page 4). The quote is attributed to Tirtha Dhar, assistant marketing professor at UBC Sauder School of Business.

“The net benefits (of sports arenas) are not clear but these complexes are attractive to politicians. In all communities there is a small section of (relatively) well-to-do residents who are sports fanatics. In most cases they are politically well connected. So we end up with a toxic mix of political money and intense passion for certain sports.”

Incidentally, it is notable that the three centres discussed — Abbotsford ($75 million in 2009), Langley ($57.4 million in 2009) and Chilliwack ($20 million in 2004) – all cost less than ours. Despite being a poorer city than any of the above, our sports passion apparently exceeded theirs; perhaps because of our hockey legacy which apparently relates to the Penticton V’s winning the World Championship in the middle of the last century.

Beyond that our hockey legacy seems to be no different from any other Canadian town of comparable size.

Raymond Corteen

Penticton