Canada Winter Games opponents not swayed by report

Speed skating at the Canada Games
Speed skating at the 2015 Canada Games.
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Critics of Yellowknife’s proposed bid to host the 2023 Canada Winter Games say they are not convinced by the findings of a new report.

The working committee tasked with assessing the risks of a bid presented its findings at a public meeting on Thursday at Yellowknife’s Explorer Hotel.

The committee’s year-long study concluded that Yellowknife has the money, has the facilities and can find 4,500 volunteers to successfully host the Games.

The budget was set at around $50 million, though this excludes eight-figure sums for an athletes’ village and upgraded swimming pool.

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Councillors must now decide whether to go ahead.

Read: Yellowknife can host 2023 Canada Games, says report

But opponents say nothing in the report reassures them in key areas of concern – such as the city’s limited accommodation and its small pool of volunteers.

“I don’t believe we have the capacity to host the Canada Winter Games. There are some significant gaps,” Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green told Moose FM.

“I don’t feel that the questions around where everybody would stay are thoroughly answered.”

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The report says the city is, on paper, lacking at least 670 of the 1,162 rooms needed according to the Canada Games’ usual requirements. However, officials associated with the bid say that number comes down considerably if you use homestays, B&Bs and other accommodation to meet some of that demand.

At Thursday’s meeting, City of Yellowknife senior administrative officer Dennis Kefalas said the true shortage was more like “80 to 100” rooms – and he believes new hotels in the next seven years, as yet unannounced, could take care of that.

For Green, that’s not enough.

“It probably isn’t the right time yet to do this. I’m just not sure the community does have the capacity,” she said.

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“There are some intangible benefits – the volume of economic investment, the athletic competition, that tourists will come here in greater numbers. But on the face of it, it seems like the risks are very tangible and the benefits seem to be somewhat less tangible.”

In full: Working committee’s report on hosting the 2023 Canada Games (pdf)

Mike Bradshaw, executive director of the NWT Chamber of Commerce, agreed with Green’s viewpoint. His two main concerns are finding enough volunteers and securing business backing.

“When the Arctic Winter Games came to Yellowknife in 2008, they had a target of 3,000 volunteers – I worked in that area and they were only able to successfully recruit about 2,500,” Bradshaw claimed.

“It was a real strain on the community. It exhausted the volunteer sector in Yellowknife and a target of 4,500 is just not doable. It’s an unbearable risk for an event of this scale.

“I’ve been calling our members to see how much they’re willing to support the Games. They’re going to be expected to pony up and it’s not going to happen.

“If it was 10 years ago, I’d be a cheerleader for an event like this. It’s not 10 years ago. We’re struggling right now and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully city councillors will be true their word from the last election and they’ll walk away from this.”

Details: How to provide your feedback on the report

What city councillors decide to do is an interesting question, not least because only one of the eight councillors turned up to Thursday’s opening public meeting.

Rommel Silverio was the lone councillor in attendance. However, most councillors expressed reservations about any Canada Games bid during October’s municipal election campaign.

“If they are such big fans of this, where are they to lend their voices and presence in support of this whole thing? I’m not sure where they’re going to stand on this,” said Green.

While some speakers at Thursday’s meeting voiced opposition, others urged the city to press ahead.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for us to inspire our youth to embrace sport and all the benefits its brings,” said Spider Jones, a Sport North employee and president of NWT Squash.

“We’re poised to create programs that will prepare under-10s and under-12s to excel [when they are aged 17 to 19] in 2023. As we move along that continuum, we leave a legacy of program enhancements for any other 10-year-old and 12-year-old as they follow through.

“This is a huge, huge, significant opportunity for us to invest in our youth, their character and ambition. Let’s really push a ‘yes’ campaign.”

Feedback can be received until February 5, after which it’s up to councillors to decide.

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