Commonwealth Games going, going (Mar 11, 2007)

Let the recriminations begin

The cell phone rang. The cell phone never rings, unless it is one of the children wanting to know when Sunday dinner is being served — and it was now Monday morning — or unless I’m out of range of local cell phone service and I’ve forgotten to add “roaming minutes” to my billing plan. Uh… right.

I was in Los Angeles, having flown in the night-day before, and was still trying to figure out what time zone I was in and why the birds were singing outside my window in the middle of the night.

Dan O’Connell, the CBC-TV news reporter, was on the phone. He was doing a story about growing criticism all those nattering nabobs of negativism in the local media were somehow to blame for politicians finally beginning to have second thoughts about Halifax’s Commonwealth Games bid. He needed a talking-head-journalism-professor-type to be suitably shocked and appalled by it all. Was I available?

I was, I said, but I’m in California. Could he fly out?

Oh God, I’m sorry, he said. What time is it out there?

Five thirty, I answered, looking at the bedside clock.

Did I wake you?

Of course not.

We are staying in an L.A. neighbourhood where, just up the block, there is a house — a fixer-upper, according to the locals — currently on the market for $8.8 million. Up and down the street, contractors are busy tearing down equally elegant homes (fixer-upper is a relative term here) in order to replace them with larger, newer, pricier places for people for whom price is no object.

It would have been difficult in such circumstances, and even without the jet lag lagging my thoughts, to twist my brain back around to the cost of Halifax’s Commonwealth Games bid.

So I didn’t.

I went instead to visit L.A.’s Getty Museum to admire J. Paul Getty’s extravagantly spectacular architectural testament to his own wealth, and his even more extravagantly extravagant art collections. And then up the Coastal Highway to San Simeon to gaze in wonder upon the wonders that William Randolph Hearst’s the-price-is-really-really-absolutely-no-object wealth had bought and wrought, and to realize that, by comparison to Hearst’s decadently indulgent castle on the top of the mountain, J.Paul was, at best, just a parvenu piker in the riches game.

What would either of them have made of a debate over a few hundred million here or there for the chance to stage a major sporting event? The problem, of course, is that none of us is J. Paul or William Randolph.

On Thursday morning when I finally had to force myself to turn my attention back to reality and figure out what I could possibly be shocked and appalled about in this space this week, I discovered in that day’s digital edition of The Daily News yet another diatribe from Commonwealth Games pitchman Don Mills — this one in a speech he’d given the day before to local business types — blaming the mayor, the premier and, of course, the media for getting all caught up in piddling matters like how much the games might cost and losing sight of the glittery, shining Getty-Hearst-Danny-Williams possibilities of it all. Where’s the leadership, he lamented?

Perhaps I could write about that. But what could I say that my colleague David Rodenhiser hadn’t already said better in Thursday morning’s paper? Perhaps, I thought, maybe I should pick up on Mills’ “What-would-Jesus-do?” question in reference to Williams, the Newfoundland premier and god of all he surveys.

What would charismatic Danny Williams have done to make our bid bounce that luster-less Rodney did not, could not, or would not?

I had just begun to mine this rich column prospect when my you-have-new-mail sound sounded on the computer. It was 7:48 a.m. California time. The message was a bulletin from, David Bentley’s Halifax business news web site. PROVINCE AND HRM WITHDRAW COMMONWEALTH GAMES SUPPORT, it declared in bold type.

And, suddenly, all bets were off. As were the Games. Let the recriminations begin.

As for me, I’m off to San Francisco, safe in the knowledge that there will be more than enough shocked-and-appalled to go around until I get home.

Stephen Kimber, the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College, is an award-winning author of five nonfiction books and a novel, Reparations.

  1. Hi Stephen,

    My mother ran out and bought Reparations last summer after she heard your interview on CBC radio. She worked in the legal system for years, and felt she could relate to your comments about backroom politics in NS.

    I meant to write months ago to congratulate you on such a thoroughly researched piece of fiction, and on such a sensitive subject. It’s nice to have some good writing come out of NS.

    After eight years in Asia, I’ve moved back to Canada and am currently living in Montreal. Will make it a point of dropping by King’s next time I’m in Halifax.

    All the best,



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