If making money requires spending money, the Harper government has hit a jackpot of economic opportunity for Canadians in the form of two adorable, black and white, bamboo munching bears.
OK, I know. It’s unfair, if not insulting, to refer to Ms. Er Shun and Mr. Da Mao as just your average, run-of-the-mill bears. They are, in fact, giant pandas. And boy, these cute, furry, endangered Chinese dignitaries with no known history of human rights abuses have already created quite a stir in the media.
Er Shun and Da Mao touched down at Toronto’s Pearson Airport on March 25 (who thought pandas could leave a carbon footprint?), and have since taken part in photo ops with the likes of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. The press, not surprisingly, have eaten it up, going so far as to call the pandas “rock stars” (perhaps confused with former KISS drummer Peter Criss in makeup).
Just like rock stars, Er Shun and Da Mao were quickly whisked away from the press and panda fervour at the airport to their lodgings – at the Toronto zoo. It’s at this point the glamour kind of peters off, however, as the two were then put in quarantine for 30 days.
When the pandas emerge in May, they will once again be star attractions, serving the zoo for the next five years. The Toronto Zoo expects to see a boost in patrons as a result and, in honour of the new arrivals (or perhaps for Year of the Snake), admission is going up $3.
At the end of the five years, Canada’s pandas in residence will be shipped to the zoo in Calgary (Western Canada in Harper-speak), where they’ll spend the next five years, further enhancing the city’s reputation as a mecca of multiculturalism (can’t wait to see the panda/Stampede tie-in).
Of course, all of the positive press and potential economic gain from this panda-monium comes at a price. Our government is paying $10 million for the privilege of having pandas in Canada. And that doesn’t even cover the cost of food, care and maintenance, let alone the damages that would result if, in rock-star fashion, the pandas should trash an apartment.
Furthermore, the $10 million doesn’t even give us ownership of the pandas. These black and whites are rentals. This means we have to take extraordinary care not to harm or damage the pandas, as the buyout price would likely set payment of our national deficit back another five years.
Some might begrudge the Harper government (easy to confuse with the Government of Canada) for spending $10 million on panda rental, instead of investing the money in one or more of the nation’s many pressing needs. But having pandas isn’t just about giving Canadians something new behind bars to spend tax dollars on. It’s about improved international relations with a desirable trading partner that desperately wants our natural resources in exchange for cheap manufactured goods.
My only complaint is how there was seemingly no consideration given to hiring local. I, for one, would have gladly spent the next 10 years in a panda costume, posing for cameras with Harper, Ford and the like for $1 million a year. But that ship has sailed. I wonder if China will be getting a $10 million Canadian moose in exchange? I might have a line on a Bullwinkle costume.