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Indebted Olympic nation

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I don't much like my country these days, indeed haven't for the last week or so. Is it simply a case of me being an anti-Olympic no-fun grinch? Maybe.

Or maybe it's something else.

One of my father's-in-law (there have been several) once recounted to me how when he was choosing a country to come to after World War II, he deliberately picked one without a flag of its own.

Peter, Jewish, had grown up in what was then Czechoslovakia and spent years in death camps where most of his family perished. He met his future wife in a displaced person's camp in Austria after the war. As they contemplated life anew, Peter noted that Canada at the time had no real national flag, but rather flew the British Red Ensign. This suited him as he wanted to be in a country without flag waving crowds filled to the nines with beer and nationalistic fervour. He never again in his lifetime wanted to hear mobs chanting their country's praises.

Peter has been dead for a long time now, but I thought of him this week, especially on Sunday, the final day of the 2010 Winter Games. He was a gentle man who adored sports of all kinds, but would, I'm sure, have been appalled by the crowds roaming the streets draped in the Maple Leaf, roaring out "Oh Canada" at the drop of a hat (or a puck). He would have been repelled by those chanting the galling "Go Canada, go", and high-fiving total strangers as if all shared a bond of anything besides temporary nationalist fever.

Peter, like many Canadians native born and not, did not wear his love of country on his sleeve. He found a more subtle way to express his sentiments in just being a good family man and citizen and by being involved in his community. He was, in his own way, a quiet patriot like most Canadians have always been.

The Olympic circus spectacle changed for a time the nature how we celebrate our country. Some of the hoopla was simply the juxtaposition of Team Canada winning hockey gold over the Americans at the end of the Olympic party. After all, we view hockey as "our" game and have more than a passing ambivalence to the Yankees in general, so beating them was particularly sweet.

But there was certainly more at play than a gold medal for a bunch of highly-paid professionals. Those who think we need to be more demonstrably patriotic will no doubt be pleased by the flags flying everywhere on cars and buildings, by the crowds singing the anthem, by the costumes and faces painted red and white. The hyper-patriotism we normally decry in our southern cousins came home to roost as Canadians discovered they could be just as mindlessly nationalistic.

It was, perhaps just for a long moment, a descent into a different way of thinking about one's country, a default to a form of patriotism that might best be described as basically juvenile in nature. It is superficial as most mindless patriotism born of spectacle normally is.

The families dressed in red and white strolling through the downtown sites surely enjoyed the party, but in the euphoria of the moment likely failed to realize the bill that they and their kids would pay: A deficit provincial budget before the Legislature this week will feature cuts to services that these same kids will now not enjoy. The same children who skipped along the streets will never hike Eagleridge or savour real wilderness in the Callaghan. They will, however, need to be damned sure that they don't scamper down the wrong mean streets of the Downtown Eastside, the latter just as desperate and drug-filled and just as unlikely to find relief as before the circus came to town.

Soon the Olympic financial hangover will set in, the budget merely driving home what so many expected and now dread. The Liberals will find some way to pretend it could all be worse but for the Games, but only the most brain dead boosters will buy this spin. The rest of the public will just suck it up, the same way they do all the other lies and stupidities that governments at all levels toss at them. They will do their best to not let reality spoil the happy memories of a 17-day party, a party that gave them a transient sense of patriotism.

A mature form of patriotism, in Canada or anywhere else, would have a very different character. Much like being a parent responsible for one's children compared to a 20-something with no responsibilities out clubbing on Saturday night, a mature society would take care of its duties before partying. A mature society, one to which true patriot love could adhere, would have found a way to address poverty in a comprehensive way, would have sought real solutions to 1st Nations aspirations, and would fund the arts as if they really mattered, not just as backdrops to a sports party. A mature society would see more value in putting millions into medical research than into Olympic opening ceremonies, ceremonies that are all circus and really have nothing to do with either sports or the needs of our daily lives.

The Olympic circus, now thankfully gone, has revealed that we are nowhere near being a mature society and all the faux patriotism of the last 17 days won't make us so. Waving the flag at a street party doesn't equate to doing the hard work of trying to affect change one block at a time. Chanting "Go Canada, go" is not the same as the daily grind that the folks at the 1st United Church on Hastings go through trying to find a way to keep a roof over the heads and food in the bellies of 300 homeless people. It's nowhere the same as the battle that a number of groups fight day-by-day against the kind of poverty that simply shouldn't be allowed to exist in our city. Some in the media and public slam APC, DERA, PIVOT, Carnegie and many other groups for their activism, yet all of these have done vastly more for their fellows than all the mealy mouthed politicians combined.

The flag wavers have gone back to their normal routines and comfortable lives, the flags conveniently parked in the garage until Canada Day and the next celebration of their "patriotism". John Furlong, VANOC's CEO, will go on to an Order of Canada and some chi-chi job at the IOC or one of the Olympic sponsors. Gordon Campell and Gregor Roberston will bask in the post Olympic party glow.

Meanwhile, the homeless are still on the streets along with those who care about them. Eagleridge is still gone and Native elder Harriet Nahanee still dead, and environmental hero Betty Krawczyk still missing 10 months of her life, both for trying to save it.

Who then are the real patriots?

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