Father Jean-Marie Mouchet finished gliding around his ceremonial lap of the Mt. McIntyre sprint track on his new canary-yellow skis last Tuesday afternoon.
The admirers there to honour his lifelong contributions to youth and cross-country skiing in the North clanged their cowbells and cheered him on to the finish line where cameras and reporters waited.
Mouchet’s energy and determined dedication to his avocation belie his nearly 90 years.
Down below, the first five young women were already lining up for the start of the qualifying heats in the Canada Winter Games 1,200-metre cross-country ski sprint races.
The tense, focused competitors in their team racing uniforms approached coloured lines drawn across the snow.
Once at their marks the air horn sounded and the race began.
Everyone in the crowd expected fair races.
Heat after heat of sprinters rounded the first bend, quickly climb the slope and then charged down its back side before attacking the course again in the final dash to the finish line.
Only the first two skiers in each flight of five would go on to the next round.
Often the gap between winning racers and those not going on was less than the length of a ski.
Certainly there are differences between the racers. Natural ability, self discipline, dedication to their sport and mental attitude among other factors vary.
Beyond those unequally distributed internal attributes, competitors and spectators alike want all other external factors to be as fair as possible.
In sports, as in our current economic system, we know that the playing field is not always level.
The latest equipment, best coaching, financial support, and opportunities for training and competition can legally give one racer an edge over another.
Glaring inequalities would, however, demand intervention from sports governing bodies and government funders.
Competitors and the public would not tolerate blatantly biased sports.
Why then do we and our political leaders tolerate a horribly skewed economic system?
Last week the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, an independent research institute concerned with issues of social and economic justice, released a study entitled The Rich and the Rest of Us.
The study reports that the overwhelming majority of Canadian families, nearly 80 per cent, face significantly increased work hours, an average of 200 hours more a year since 1996, while earning a declining proportion of the nation’s income.
Based on Statistics Canada labour income data, the report reveals that despite overall economic prosperity the trend towards a widening gap between rich and poor has accelerated to an “unsustainable” extent.
“Families are doing everything they’re told to succeed,” noted Armine Yalnizyan, the study’s author and research director for the Toronto Community Social Planning Council, in a Toronto Star article.
“They get a better education. They delay family formation. They work harder than ever before,” Yalnizyan wrote.
“They should be better off than their parents’ generation. But 80 per cent of families cannot say that.”
The study shows “that the richest 10 per cent of families with children — those with incomes more than $131,200 in 2004 — earned 82 times the amount earned by the poorest 10 per cent.
In 1976, the richest families earned 31 times the amount of the poorest families.”
As the study says: “We ignore these trends at our collective peril.”
What should we do if the economic finishing line just keeps getting moved further and further away for most of us?
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, www.policyalternatives.ca, has some ideas, as does the Living Wage Campaign of the National Anti-Poverty Organization, www.napo-onap.ca . Have a look.
Namas Te notes
Saturday, March 10 — Anniversary of the arrival of the Salvation Army in North America in 1880.
Sunday, March 11 — Third Sunday of Lent — Suggested reading John 4:5-42.
Thursday, March 15 — Honen Matsuri: the Shinto festival celebrating the blessings of fertility and prosperity.