City councillors appear set to reject plans to host the 2023 Canada Winter Games in Yellowknife.
The final vote is not until next Monday, but the city’s eight councillors had the opportunity to express their views at a committee meeting yesterday.
None spoke in support of the project, budgeted at $50 million plus tens of millions in other, related building projects and yet-to-be-confirmed territorial support for athletes’ accommodation.
The apparent verdict comes after a report in January insisted the city could find the money, volunteers and accommodation needed to successfully host the Games.
In the longest municipal services committee meeting for more than a year – stretching to more than two hours – councillors said they were left unconvinced by the numbers in that report, had heard very little public support for hosting the Games, and felt much of the money needed to stage the event could be better spent in other ways.
“I do not think we are taking an easy path in making this difficult decision,” said Linda Bussey, addressing fellow councillors and a room full of interested residents at City Hall on Monday.
“I have thought long and hard about this and had many discussions with residents. A vast majority shared concerns about the city’s ability to host the Games in the existing economic conditions.”
Rebecca Alty expressed concerns about proposals that rely on substantial territorial funding to ensure athletes have a place to stay.
“It concerns me that the GNWT won’t formally commit on paper. It’s too big a risk to go with just a verbal agreement – the city could end up on the hook for the whole housing project,” she said.
“We also can’t necessarily award bids to local companies due to national trade agreements, so there’s no guarantee that money spent on the bid will stay local.
“We have to stop and look at what we’re trying to achieve, and ask ourselves if there is a better option out there. I’d like to focus on other initiatives to increase tourism and economic development sooner than 2023.”
According to Alty, eight percent of Yellowknife’s homeowners would have to take part in a homestay program in order to make up for a shortfall of hotel rooms. She questions whether that’s a realistic number.
‘Community not behind this’
Shauna Morgan argued that while she supports sports, athlete development and improving the city’s economy, she was “not convinced that the Canada Winter Games is the best way to achieve those objectives”.
She added: “I’m not convinced that putting government money into this event will create the most economic benefits for the community.
“If tourism is our top priority, I think we could do a lot with a couple of million dollars and don’t need the Canada Winter Games to do that.”
Julian Morse, meanwhile, said the plans looked like a huge sum of money for very few new tourists in return.
“If we targeted that kind of money more specifically, we could definitely achieve probably greater benefits than the Games themselves,” said Morse.
“The public feedback I’ve received has been very strong. I’ve listened to both sides but right now, the community is not behind this initiative.”
Plans to host the Games would see the sport of Alpine skiing dropped as the city has no appropriate venue.
With that in mind, Niels Konge said he would have an easier time backing a bid for the Canada Summer Games – as opposed to the winter variant.
“Had this been a Summer Games bid, this would have been a much harder decision,” said Konge. “I do hope there is an opportunity to host the Summer Games as I do believe we could accommodate them.
“We can build a track. It’s a little bit harder to build a mountain.”