On the Hill – Showing Some (Seal) Skin

Usually, the news that every MP in Ottawa has managed to agree on an issue would be cause for celebration.

Common sense has prevailed, you’d be forgiven for thinking, and our well-paid public employees have stopped scrapping over the spotlight long enough to work together.

Well, MPs from all parties did agree unanimously to a motion this week, but once again we’re left wondering about the unique brand of lunacy that seems to pervade Parliament Hill.

Apparently, all our MPs agree that It’s a grand idea to reveal a little more skin as part of Canada’s Olympic uniforms at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver’sealskin, that is. As a way to protest the recent European Union ban on seal products, the MPs voted yes to the Bloc Québécois motion that would see Olympic athletes used as pawns to promote a political stance.

The idea, as this CBC article reports, is that ?the international sporting event in Vancouver next February should be used to promote products from the annual seal hunt on the East Coast, including the possibility that Canada’s Olympic uniform include at least one seal product, likely skin.?

Besides the fact that Olympic athletes are amateur competitors whose efforts aren’t (or shouldn’t be) open to manipulation by corporate or government interests, this desire to mix politics and Olympic Games is a curious reversal from last year. Just 10 short months ago, as protests erupted around the world over the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Canada’s government was clear on the issue: the Olympics were no place for political forums.

While French president Nicolas Sarkozy openly considered a boycott, former president George W. Bush toyed with the idea of a no-show at the opening ceremonies, and both John McCain and Barack Obama claimed that they would have boycotted if they were in the White House, Stephen Harper insisted that Canada had no plans to boycott the Games. Nor, he added, did he expect other countries to do so.

As the CBC noted, Harper’s position was that ?such boycotts are often ineffective and would only harm the athletes who have trained for years to compete in the Olympics.? He was also quick to point out that his absence from the opening ceremonies was due to scheduling, not politics. (Defence Minister Peter MacKay made a few noises about not ruling out a boycott, but that line was quickly backtracked on.)

The head of the Canadian Olympic Committee immediately denounced the idea of adding sealskin to athletes? uniforms, and thankfully the parliamentary motion is non-binding.

Faced with questions on the issue, Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe defended the plan, saying ?We need a campaign. Our adversaries conducted one heck of a campaign, and Canada did not conduct a major one on the promotional level.?

Sorry, Mr. Duceppe, but instead of worrying about political campaigns our athletes should be left alone to focus on the one they’ve already started: making Canadians proud.