bailing out of the internation- al Olympic Committee schmooze-fest at swanky BCE Place Sunday night, I'm immediately struck by one of the city's stark realities. While Canada's three most powerful politicians -- Jean Chretien, Mike Harris and Mel Lastman -- dine with the IOC on smoked BC salmon, seared herb-crusted Alberta beef tenderloin and maple crème brûlé, across the street a homeless man has bedded down on the sidewalk, shielded from the biting cold only by a sleeping bag and the clothes on his back.
It's just another winter night in T.O., and utterly unremarkable to the IOC.
Evidently, the police security detail stretching around a full city block can't be bothered with him. Their boss, Julian Fantino, probably knows better than to order a street sweep during the politically sensitive visit. The optics wouldn't be good. Better to let this poor soul go unnoticed, as usual.
But make no mistake, T.O.-Bid has gone to great lengths to carefully manage every moment of the 17-member IOC technical evaluation commission's four-day inspection. Apart from being a little red-faced on account of the elevator breakdown at the Park Hyatt, which trapped IOC members for over an hour before their only official press conference Sunday evening, T.O.-Bid has pulled it off without a hitch.
In this it's aided by the slavish endorsement of both the liberal Toronto Star and those watchdogs of the public purse over at the Toronto Sun. Not to mention the CBC, which is actually part of the bid since it has the domestic television rights.
Most striking, however, is the way the bid has been able to manipulate public opinion, silencing its more ambivalent supporters and turning the existence of hardcore Olympic dissers to its own advantage.
The Bread Not Circuses coalition, it seems, passed up the opportunity to stage a major protest caper in favour of a modest march from All Saints Church on Dundas to the Lakeshore tent city, in part because they'd scored a face-to-face with the IOC -- a half-hour hearing at the Park Hyatt Friday morning.
But it's an interesting thing about that tête-à-tête -- it worked much better for the bid people and the IOC than for the activists. As a PR exercise, it reminded IOC reps that Toronto (unlike its rival Beijing) allows a thousand flowers to bloom. And it permitted the newly sanitized IOC to look responsive and open to all points of view.
But Bread Not Circuses scored very little. They went small on public visibility, and in exchange evaluation commission chair Hein Verbruggen stepped out of his role as gracious observer to publically trash them.
"I was personally disappointed by this meeting," he said. "They were simply seeking an opportunity to voice their disappointment with city policies."
The bid's chief operating officer, Bob Richardson, doesn't appear to sweat the opposition at all. He casually points out to the media that the bid's and the IOC's polls (although the Olympic body has yet to reveal its numbers to anybody) show solid local support for the Olympics.
Both Richardson and Verbruggen are also quick to mention that Mel's sheep are squarely behind it. The province and the feds are also committed. And, so far, the bid even has the support of native groups.
Like a giant spreading stain, the Olympic consensus has silenced almost all opposition. Progressive politicians at all three levels of government have apparently been bought off by assurances that Toronto would host a "green Games" that would leave behind a legacy of affordable housing.
Even environmentalist MPP Marilyn Churley (Broadview-Greenwood) lauds the provincial NDP caucus's "conditional' support.
"We're using the Olympics as leverage to get some of those things that have been guaranteed. That is, improved transit and housing," she says, adding, "Our colleagues at city council are supportive of the bid -- Jack Layton and others -- to make sure those (progressive) elements stay."
But it certainly seems like some city councillors' progressive principles and commitment to rational community-building are taking a back seat to protecting their political butts. The bid boosters have constructed public opinion so that anyone who dissents is seen as disloyal and narrow-minded -- a tag no one wants to wear come election time.
As Michael Walker, the lone Olympic dissenter on city council, put it last week, "They're all afraid.'
Despite the muted positions of politicians, Bread Not Circuses will not stop kicking up a fuss. Somebody's got to do it. The coalition's Jan Borowy says they will continue to organize opposition and urge those citizens who don't support the bid to write the IOC.
Borowy's buoyed by the Ipsos-Reid poll out Monday showing that while 73 per cent of Canadians support the bid, 55 per cent are opposed to spending taxpayers' money on it.
"We know there's a base of support out there (against the Games)," Borowy says. "It's a matter of getting people mobilized and brought together and to get that directly focused into the individual members of the IOC."
But considering the way the city puckered up last week, nothing short of a Salt Lake City-type corruption scandal or a thumbs-up for Beijing in July will slow the show down.*