Canada

Canada

LET THE GAMES BEGIN-IF THEY CAN

February 9 1976
Canada

Canada

LET THE GAMES BEGIN-IF THEY CAN

February 9 1976

Canada

LET THE GAMES BEGIN-IF THEY CAN

It was just hours before the head of Quebec’s Olympic Installations Board, Dr. Victor Goldbloom. was to fly to Innsbruck, Austria, and an inquisition by worried world Olympic officials, that hordes of paparazzi from as far away as Gabon and Great Britain faced him in a golf course clubhouse near the new stadium. They had just one question on their minds: could Montreal put it together or not? Yes it could, said Dr. Goldbloom—sort of. The stadium and pools would be ready for the track and field and swimming events but they wouldn’t be “complete.”

Dr. Goldbloom had been asked by the International Olympic Committee to keep the details to himself until he got to Austria, but even the most sanguine of games boosters now admit that when, on the afternoon of July 17. the torch is lit to open the 21st Olympiad it will be in a stadium with a truncated tower, at least 15.000 temporary seats, and minus a press centre, exterior landscaping and maybe even refreshment stands. Athletes’ dressing rooms will be in trailers, and, while officials hotly deny that the universal emblem of works in progress called Johnnyon-the-spot will be called in, much of the plumbing will be “temporary.”

In the long and weary march to Montreal’s date with the 1976 games, it has sometimes seemed as if the project was jinxed, as if there was a curse on it. Many of Montreal’s woes have been bad luck. Inflation went wild, the price of concrete zoomed. Labor was more than normally fractious. Last month Simon St. Pierre, vice-president of the Olympic Organizing Committee(COJO)and as close to indispensable to the games as any one man could be, fell off a gift horse given him by coworkers and died a week later. Last autumn another key executive died. Even the weather has joined the conspiracy. Last month—a month of decision for games organizers—was the coldest January since the Second World War. Work had to stop when the wind chill factor in the stadium’s stratosphere hit -80 degrees C. But if luck had something to do with it there has also been ruinous incompetence, epic clumsiness and what some police officials hint is breathtaking corruption. A bare outline of these troubles includes:

• THE BUILDINGS. When Parisian architect Roger Taillibert landed in Montreal he brought along not only his massive ego but plans that have proved almost impossibly intricate. The only people that seem able to make sense of the frankly experimental $700-million stadium are the little corps of French engineers and Taillibert aides who have been flitting back and forth since work began. Canadian subcontractors who have to do the actual work, however, are full of stories about the project’s arcane architectural detail. Taillibert’s stadium and velodrome are magnificent to look at, but are they safe? The roof of the velodrome is made from a suspiciously flammable material. And a British magazine called Construction News claims the stadium has structural weaknesses. Engineers here don’t agree on that one, but there are cracks in some pillars which have been filled with glue. Strong glue, but still glue.

• THE SCANDALS. One of the wilder rumors is that senior games officials are all but resigned to the inevitability of a long and painful parliamentary commission into the staging of the games when they are finished. Police say charges are already being prepared against several involved in the construction of the Olympic Village and will be laid next month. Originally priced at $33 million and destined to be badly needed public housing, village costs have soared to more than $80 million even though the project was finished in doublequick time. If parliament ever opens the lid on the games it will likely also want a long look at the equestrian site in Bromont, 40 miles from Montreal, an Olympics installation built on private property owned by the Montreal stadium’s chief contractor, Roland Desourdy.

• THE COSTS. Counting federal contributions to security and broadcasting, the cost will be at least $1.5 billion, a far cry from

the $120 million Jean Drapeau offered as his very first estimate. The deficit should be about $850 million.

What Quebeckers are waiting for now, just over five months from the opening ceremonial parade, is that swelling of hope and enthusiasm that preceded Expo 67, another project that was having bad times before it opened. It may not be far off, because not everything is sour. It is easy to forget that in Montreal, at least, there is still strong support for the Olympics, whatever they cost. Then there is Dr. Goldbloom. a soft-spoken pediatrician who had been publicly opposed to some of the Olympic excesses two and three years ago. He seems to know what he is doing, employing a gift for straight talk few suspected in him.

Countering the critics, it has to be remembered that preparations for 19 of the 21 Olympic events are untroubled and have always been well in hand. When it is all over Montreal will end up with sports facilities people will cross oceans to see— something Drapeau counted on all along. Then there is Drapeau himself. Montrealers know that if he got them into the trouble they’re in, he might also be able to get them out. The very night Dr. Goldbloom met with the press. Drapeau rekindled that always glowing fire in his belly and spoke for a full three hours to a packed Chamber of Commerce meeting. He knocked them dead. Montreal, he said, had had a bad year but it was still the city of the future. Everything was rosy again. All was well. GLEN ALLEN

OTTAWA_

By gosh, the price is wrong

When the wage-price controls program was introduced last October, government spokesmen said they were itching to roll back a price increase to show labor critics they were serious about controlling prices as well as wages. But by the end of last month, the Anti-Inflation Board could point to just one price rollback in its first 100 days of operation: prices for staple foods such as milk and eggs sold by a Loblaw-owned delicatessen chain in Toronto named Ziggys were restored to the same level charged by regular Loblaw stores. Even this minor achievement is under dispute; Loblaw actually decided on the rollback before talking to the board. In contrast, by the end of last month the board had issued press releases announcing about 20 rulings rolling back wage increases, some of them major in scope.

As the wage rollbacks mounted and the weeks drifted by with no visible action on the prices front, public criticism of the anti-inflation program grew and trade union claims that the program was anti-labor began to gain acceptance. An anguished Jean-Luc Pépin, chairman of the AIB, pleaded for understanding. “People are under the impression that we are going to control the price of every item,” he told Maclean’s. “But that’s not the way the program is meant to work.” The prices of many products will be controlled indirectly by holding down corporate profits, he explained. Despite the appearance of inaction by the AIB, “The program is already biting,” he said. “I could name 10 companies that have told me they have cut back proposed price increases because of the program. But it’s a bit too much to ask the companies to say that in public.”

The AIB is not suffering from lack of price increases to roll back. By the end of last month, the board had received reports of close to 5,000 price increases from the public. Food prices were the major source of the complaints, accounting for 29.2% of the total. But insurance, particularly auto insurance, was a strong second and moving up with 17.7%. In addition, about 40 major firms have given notice they intend to increase prices shortly. Some rulings could be forthcoming later this month, but the public may never hear what the board decides on many price increases, because it has decided to announce only price rollbacks, not approvals.

The board’s determination to keep much of its work on the corporate side confidential while publicizing all its rulings on wages threatens to create a double standard and undermine its own credibility. Former consumer affairs minister Herb Gray, who represents a labor oriented constituency in Windsor, argued: “The board should use the same approach on prices as it has on wages. I can’t see why it cannot make more of its doings public.”

But while labor and the NDP continued to attack the anti-inflation program, the board did enjoy a welcome respite from the public spotlight last month in the furor over Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s pronouncement that the free market system is dead, if, indeed, it ever existed. After he sparked the row in a year-end television interview, Trudeau was expected to back off somewhat in a follow-up speech last month. Instead, he stuck to his original statement and described his critics as “shrill” and “extreme free enterprisers.”

Trudeau drew a predictable response. It ranged from the relatively mild comments of Michel Bélanger, president of the Montreal Stock Exchange, who said the Prime Minister should have phrased himself differently, to the wild reaction of skinflint publisher Roy Thomson, who called Trudeau “an arrogant son-of-a-bitch.” Conservative leader Robert Stanfield and NDP leader Ed Broadbent accused Trudeau of throwing up a smokescreen with his statements on the free market and refused to be drawn into the debate.

Aides in the Prime Minister’s Office welcomed the strident criticism from the business sector. Said one senior PMO official:

“If we’re opposed by the banks and the oil companies, that’s like having the Ku Klux Klan against you.” IANURQUHART

His lordship was not amused

For several years André Ouellet, federal Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs, has been the rising young star of the Liberal Party in Quebec. At 36, he is the youngest member of the federal cabinet, but he can point to nine years in the House of Commons and more than three years in the cabinet as signs of experience. At various times recently, he has been mentioned as a possible successor to Quebec premier Robert Bourassa some day and as a likely candidate for promotion to the prestigious federal Justice portfolio. But a shadow has intruded on Ouellet’s bright future because of one careless moment in the Commons lobby. It was there on December 19 that Alan Freeman, a reporter for The Canadian Press, showed him the verdict of Mr. Justice Kenneth Mackay of the Quebec Superior Court acquitting three of the country’s biggest sugar companies on a charge of price-fixing, a case the consumer affairs department had spent almost four years preparing. Freeman reported Ouellet’s reaction as follows; “I find this judgment completely unacceptable. 1 think it is a silly decision. 1 just cannot understand how a judge who is sane could give such a verdict. It is a complete shock and I find it a complete disgrace.”

Ouellet was cited for contempt by Mackay for the remarks and appeared before Mr. Justice James K. Hugessen to explain himself. Ouellet fell back on the excuse that he was misquoted, but Freeman stuck by his story and Hugessen chose to believe him. He ordered Ouellet to issue a “full, complete, and unreserved apology” to the court and pay costs of $500. Ouellet chose to appeal.

In Ottawa, there was general dismay that a minister of the Crown could have spoken so harshly of a judicial decision. Conservative Justice critic Eldon Woolliams said he would resign if he were Ouellet. Not everyone was against Ouellet, however. Significantly, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau suggested that Ouellet appeal the verdict.

Ouellet himself, in his first interview after the conviction, said he thinks the publicity over the case may help him in the long run. “People that didn’t know me [before] know me now,” he said. “When you speak out, when you have conviction. you’re always bound to splash a little bit. Obviously, the remarks made are a reflection of my deep concern and my deep conviction . . . basically, 1 think a minister of the Crown has the right to express his view on a subject that is of concern to him and his constituency.”

Almost overlooked in the furor was the reason for Ouellet’s outburst. He was frustrated over the acquittal of Atlantic Sugar Refineries Co. Ltd., Redpath Industries Ltd. and St. Lawrence Sugar Ltd., all indicted for allegedly overcharging their customers by about $125 million from 1960 to 1973 through price-fixing arrangements. It was a major case for the government in its efforts to grapple with big business through the anti-combine laws and after a nine-month trial it was lost, although the government is appealing the verdict. Nor was it the only big anti-combine case lost by the government in the past year. The Irving family was acquitted of a monopoly charge in New Brunswick although it owns every English-language daily in the province. That case is going to the Supreme Court of Canada. The recent reversals in court underline the difficulties in obtaining convictions under present anti-combine laws, which date back to 1889, and the need for new legislation. Ouellet plans to bring in additional anti-combine legislation this year, but there is every prospect that the big business lobby will gear up against it again, as it did in shooting down a similar bill in 1971. Says one Liberal: “Ouellet hasn’t made it any easier to get new legislation through.” IAN URQUHART

Morgentaler’s rainbow

When Ron Basford was named Justice Minister last September, one of the most troublesome items on his crowded agenda was the case of Montreal abortionist Dr. Henry Morgentaler. Twice acquitted by Quebec juries of performing illegal abortions, Morgentaler was serving 18 months in jail because the appeal court had struck down a jury acquittal on the first charge and ordered his imprisonment. The new justice minister presided over the early passage through the House of a Criminal Code amendment taking such power away from appellate judges, and waited for an opportunity to grant Morgentaler a new trial. The chance came last month when the Quebec Court of Appeal upheld a jury acquittal of the 52-year-old physician on a second abortion charge.

Basford’s action was in marked contrast to the foot-dragging of former justice minister Otto Lang, an avowed and vocal opponent of discretionary abortion. Lang, a devout Roman Catholic father of seven, had repeatedly refused to grant Morgentaler a new trial or make retroactive the Criminal Code amendment to cover Morgentaler’s case. To charges that he applied his own standards of morality to his work in the portfolio, Lang replied: “1 won’t engage in this kind of controversy; I did what the law required.”

Upon his release Morgentaler, looking pale, and 15 pounds lighter after 10 months in jail, said: “I feel like I just came out of a long black tunnel.” He is concerned whether he can stand the strain of the new trial after a mild heart attack he suffered while in solitary confinement last June. “I’m confident I’ll win the next trial but I don’t feel too good about it. I have no financial resources. I have been pushed to the wall by all these expenses, one trial after the other, stress after strain. This ordeal has been going on for six years. How long is a man supposed to stand up to the onslaught of the massive apparatus of the state?”

While his rhetoric reflects the emotionalism of a martyr, it is true that at times Morgentaler’s case has appeared to be one of persecution, not prosecution. Aside from the conviction and imprisonment, his assets were frozen by the Quebec department of revenue for a tax audit. The city of Montreal threatened to auction off two of his buildings for more than $ 17,000 in back taxes. He has been denied parole. And finally. the Professional Corporation of Physicians of Quebec has lifted his license for a year. The corporation ruled that Morgentaler had practised bad medicine and recommended that he be ordered to take refresher courses—courses which in fact do not exist in Quebec.

The Quebec government has said it will announce on March 1 the date of the new trial on the 1973 abortion charge. But there is some doubt as to whether the trial will ever take place. For one thing, the Crown will have trouble finding its key witness, a Sierra Leone student on whom Dr. Morgentaler operated. The girl, living in Canada on a student visa at the time, is thought to have since returned to Africa; if so she cannot be compelled to come for the trial.

ANGELA FERRANTE/LUANA PARKER

ALBERTA_

Well, Moosies have to eat too!

Some of the details seemed hilarious, but hardly anyone in Alberta was laughing about the extraordinary preelection largesse of Peter Lougheed’s Conservative government. The press was upset, opposition politicians were outraged and the government was privately anxious as criminal proceedings began this month against two former government employees who helped distribute goodies to cultural and ethnic groups. Indeed, so generous was the government’s Office of Special Programs last year with its sudden budget of six million dollars that it frequently handed out more money than applicants sought and once even gave $2,285 to an outfit that didn’t exist. Perhaps only in Alberta, awash as it is in petro-dollars, could a government unblushingly write a cheque for $3.000 to “Hoppy Happy Tippy Tappy” (a group teaching East Indian dancing to children of various ethnic groups) or $2,000 to “Moosie the Magic Safety Clown,” who turned out to be Gerald Ethier, a director of Edmonton Calder’s Conservative riding association and a parttime promoter of traffic safety for the Loyal Order of Moose.

All this, of course, happened before last spring’s provincial election which returned Lougheed with a landslide. Since then, there has been an RCMP investigation. Provincial Auditor Douglas Rogers has released a scathing report on the affair, the press and opposition parties have accused the government of engaging in the shabbiest form of patronage, and Lougheed himself has stonewalled all demands for the resignation of the cabinet member responsible—Culture Minister Horst (now known as The Gift Horst) Schmid.

Schmid, who arrived in Canada from Bavaria as a 19-year-old, is a self-confessed admirer of British culture (one of his proudest moments, he says, was playing an Englishman in a Noel Coward play). His anglophilia may explain why he was so quick to respond to a request for $285 from the “St. George’s Gaelic Society Language School” which claimed that Margaret Thatcher, among others, studied there. Schmid not only arranged for the $285; he also arranged for a further $2,000. Trouble was, the “school” was the product of an Edmonton reporter’s fertile imagination. Radio newsman Len Grant, having heard improbable tales of government generosity, mailed in an application. When, to his delight, the government responded, he returned the cheques and hit the airwaves. The ensuing outcry by press and opposition members led eventually to an investigation by auditor Rogers. His report, published in December and compiled with at least some assistance from the RCMP, concluded that the government through its Office of Special Programs, had misused public money on questionable cultural schemes. He also said he had found evidence of outright fraud, as well as gross abuse of ministerial power, and reported that “ . . . $859,827 was expended which was not related to any of the approved projects.” Just how zealously Schmid’s men went about their task of getting rid of the six million dollars can be judged from the fact that, before the office was disbanded, the budget had been overspent and some groups were threatening to sue for contracts the office was unable to fulfill.

In the meantime, two men— Donald Stewart and Olie Wowk—were to have a preliminary hearing February 3 to 5 on charges they face as a result of their work in the Office of Special Programs. Stewart, the former coordinator of the office, has been charged with three counts of fraud amounting to more than $6.000 and with two counts of breach of trust. Wowk faces 12 fraud charges involving more than $10,000. Both men are charged with fraudulently issuing wage cheques to a nonexistent employee, JAMES ANDERSON

BRITISH COLUMBIA_

‘ A plague on both their houses!’

“British Columbia,” complains a crude sign nailed on a Burnaby telephone pole, “has become a pedestrian province.” To motorists still reacting like hit-and-run victims to the news their insurance rates will jump between 100% and 300% on March 1, the sign connotes a costly irony. The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, one of the proudest jewels in the crown of the NDP government, has turned into a thorn under the new Social Credit administration of Bill Bennett. Blaming the late Barrett government for the financial mess of ICBC (an accumulated deficit of $181 million), the Socreds have set rates to reduce the deficit and reflect the “reality” of insurance costs. The reality for motorists is a harsh one. Rather than continuing to enjoy rates 35% lower than the rest of Canada, drivers will be forced to pay some of the highest rates in the country. Not surprisingly, their reaction has been vigorous. In one rally in Surrey an angry crowd of 4,000 hanged in effigy Pat McGeer, the minister in charge of the ICBC. McGeer didn’t help matters much when he salted his announcement of a rate increase with the advice: “If you can’t afford insurance for it [the car], sell it.” Premier Bennett publicly characterized that McGeerism as “regrettable.”

If the public is ignoring McGeer’s promise of an internal cleanup of the ICBC. the bureaucrats are not. First to go will be the existing board of directors, to be replaced by hardnosed businessmen to rearrange what McGeer calls the NDP’S “social experiment.” Next targets will be ICBC’S claims operations with agents and appraisers both coming under the gun. McGeer says that ICBC agents last year fed enough incorrect information into the corporation’s computer to create 500,000 errors (which allowed Vancouver reporter Jim Spears to license and insure his office chair). McGeer also wants to see a bonus system for agents making the fewest errors.

Part of the reason for the mistakes is overwork by ICBC’S 985-member claims division. Greedy body shops and unscrupulous claimants take advantage of the heavy caseload by charging exorbitant prices. Former ICBC appraiser Jake Brouwer says he has seen dozens of ICBC settlements that were as much as double the cost of the actual repairs.

With McGeer and the Socred government apparently determined to reshape the ICBC in the form of private insurance companies, and, indeed, inviting private insurers to return to the province, the “social experiment” of BC’S insurance corporation may be over. JACQUES HAMILTON