Marie ("Let them eat cake") Antoinette, rest easy. You have company. Step forward, Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid.
What was Dr. MacDiarmid thinking? Was she thinking at all, when the respected family physician and ex-president of the B.C. Medical Association responded to the growing outcry over cutbacks to school sports programs with a suggestion that students might compensate by "walking or dancing or playing in parks"?
Yes, nothing like a bunch of high-school rugby players keeping fit by dancing around a larch or playing rumple-my-stiltskin in the nearest park.
Among those outraged by the rookie minister's seemingly callous remark was none other than Elaine Tanner. Yes, that Elaine Tanner, the dynamic Mighty Mouse of the pool who won a record three swimming medals for Canada at the 1968 Olympics.
Ms. Tanner e-mailed me out of the blue. "WOW!" she wrote of Dr. MacDiarmid's prancing-in-the-parks idea. "I can't wait to see what type of world-class athletes that will create for Canada."
The former swim champ, whose gripping personal story is well recounted on her website elainetanner.ca, called it "the most troubling comment I have heard from someone in a position of leadership in this province, when it comes to sport and competition issues."
She pointed out that spending on sports helps combat youth involvement in crime and drugs, while promoting healthy living. "[These cutbacks]will end up costing us 10 times more in the long run."
Bruce Allen, rock promoter and CKNW radio ranter, was more blunt. "Is she on acid?" he wondered of Minister MacDiarmid on the wireless yesterday.
Incidentally, it's no wonder that the provincial Liberals and Premier Gordon Campbell, in particular, are plummeting in public opinion. People don't like to be played for suckers, as they feel they were during the spring election campaign, when the Libs said nothing about the province's deteriorating financial situation or about harmonizing the sales tax.
Nor is the public mood improved by all those government cuts to such worthy institutions as the arts, community groups, school sports and even parent advisory councils.
There are signs this souring is spreading to the 2010 Winter Olympics. Over the years, Mr. Campbell has been front and centre at virtually every high-profile 2010 event. But now, the more people see an increasingly unpopular Premier whooping it up over the Olympics at a time of recession and cutbacks, the more they transfer their crankiness to the Games themselves.
Rare is the criticism of slashed government funding that doesn't link it to the oodles of bucks being spent on the Olympics, however tenuous the connection.
A recent Ipsos-Reid poll asked 440 Vancouverites whether they thought the Olympics is a "colossal waste of money that will render Vancouver in debt for years to come." Sixty-four per cent said yes. Even more (72 per cent) agreed that the Games are "an expensive luxury, given the economic shape the world is in."
It's true that 64 per cent of the same respondents also said they supported the 2010 Winter Olympics, but hey, that's what polls are for.
Meantime, we have the anti-Olympic peevishness of B.C. Teachers' Federation president Irene Lanzinger, who slammed a harmless Olympic school program by saying kids should be told, too, about drug testing, Olympic corruption and corporate sponsorship of the Games. Wouldn't want to actually inspire any youngsters, would we?
The good old days
The news flash came right out of the twilight zone, or perhaps from a Star Trek time warp that had Capt. Kirk managing the Montreal Expos. Breathlessly billed as "CKNW Breaking News," it buzzed its way directly into my computer: "Prime Minister Mulroney has appointed B.C. Court of Appeal Justice Robert Bauman as the new Chief Justice of the B.C. Supreme Court."
Hurray, I thought. The 1980s were back. A simpler, more pleasant time. The Steamer captained the Canucks, young people still read newspapers, vinyl was king, Stephen Harper was just a guy named Steve on the ballot, and I'd never heard of mutual funds.
Alas, the idyll was short-lived. It was soon déjà vu, all over again.
Within a mere six minutes came the inevitable "Breaking News correction": "Prime Minister Harper has appointed..." Ah well, back to the 21st century, the horrors of swine flu and Twitter.