Best Olympics world has ever seen: Harper

Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested Monday that the Vancouver Olympics have elevated Canada on the world stage like never before.

When the 2010 Winter Olympics were officially declared closed, the near-capacity crowd at the ceremony reacted in a way completely unheard of in Vancouver for almost three weeks.

They booed.

"It was a real mix of emotions," said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson on Monday of the moment in which he handed over the Olympic flag to the mayor of the next host city.


Vancouver Games: Did the Olympics change Canada?

"I felt so much joy and pride for our city and country … and not quite wanting to let go. You don't really want something this good to come to an end."

Nothing but raucous cheering in Vancouver and in Canada was heard for the 2010 Winter Games, with the joy so loud that even a belligerent international media eventually got caught up in the excitement.

That joy may be tempered somewhat as the bills for the party begin to roll in.

Both the federal and B.C. provincial budgets will come out this week and it will be difficult not to associate expected cuts with the largesse associated with putting on the world's biggest show.

The various levels of government invested roughly $6 billion on the Olympics, including upgrades to the Sea-to-Sky Highway, a new rapid transit line and the completion of the Vancouver Convention Centre.

The corporate world spent millions more, both to help put on the Games and to create some of the buzz in the city that has left it with a hangover of Olympic proportions.

But through the haze of the morning after comes the question of whether the Games were just a defining moment in Canadian history or a tipping point, forever changing Canada.

The Games, suggested Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Monday, have elevated Canada on the world stage.

"Mark my words, some day historians will look back at Canada's growing strength in the 21st century and they will say it all began right here, on the West Coast, with the best Winter Olympic Games the world has ever seen," he said.

Certain legacies of government spending on the Games were already assured, like the venues that will convert to community centres after the Paralympics.

Others will take work, like converting the thousands of people who used public transit during the Olympics to full-time transit takers.

There are also strategies in place to convert TV viewers to tourist dollars and handshake deals into business contracts.

But the priceless legacy of these Games is the one that's the hardest to harness — national pride. Even those who aren't from the country found themselves head over heels.

"I'm unashamedly in love with the country," said David Atkins, the Australian-born producer of the opening and closing ceremonies.

"I've never been as emotionally connected to a job or a place."

'Opportunity to keep the momentum' 

The incoming president of the Canadian Olympic Committee says the way the country rallied around the Olympics must not be ignored by government.

Polls taken during the Games suggested the vast majority of Canadians believed the Olympics were uniting the country.

"Nobody would have thought we would accomplish this at that level," Marcel Aubut said in an interview.

"It's a very good argument to say well, there is an opportunity here for you … it becomes an opportunity to keep the momentum."

Questions are already being asked about what the government will do with the $117-million Own the Podium program that helped give Canada more gold medals than any country has ever won at a Winter Olympics.

While polls suggested the medal count wasn't the factor behind Canadians' wholehearted embrace of the Games, there's no question it helped, said Charmaine Crooks, a former Olympian who sat on the board of directors for the Games.

"Everyone raised their bar of excellence in so many different ways," she said.

But the funding is now drying up, though a new Canadian Press/Harris Decima survey suggested 49 per cent of Canadians believe it should stay in place.

"I would hate to think we'll fall back," said Rusty Goepel, the chairman of the board of directors for the 2010 Winter Games.

"For the kids, for the overall health of the country, I don't think anyone should worry that it wasn't money very well spent."

While the Games may have left the country on a bit of a high, let's also not lose sight of where we've come from, suggested Steve Yzerman, executive director of the men's gold-medal-winning hockey team.

"Canada has shown the world that we are pretty good people. I hope we remain humble and gracious," he said after Sunday's game.

"Let's not get cocky. Let's not get overconfident. It's hard to win."