There were more asks than answers when the Canada Winter Games Committee met at City Hall this Tuesday, most of them aimed at the money question: how much will they cost, and who will pay – now and in the future.
The committee will meet again on August 20, and once more before the municipal election in October, but it still might not have all the critical answers before voters cast their ballots.
If the city meets the deadline to make a submission for the 2023 games ‘some time in 2016,’ Yellowknife could become the smallest city to ever host the event. That fact alone gave some committee members cause to pause.
Added to questions around facilities financing is a more fundamental issue: can Yellowknife, with barely 20,000 residents, muster the 4,500 volunteers needed to host the event?
Volunteer recruitment is among the top risks facing the games, Doug Rentmeister, a member of a sub-committee charged with identifying potential problems, told the meeting.
Along with Yellowknife’s reputation as a city of transients are questions about who would pay for the two weeks time-off from work for volunteers, and potential conflicts with the needs of the Snow King and Long John Jamboree events.
Weather is another risk. February is notoriously cold in Yellowknife, making March the favored month for the games, and spring break, when many Yellowknifers take vacation, will potentially draw away many volunteers.
Games not for everyone
The last five winter games have turned a profit, Rentmeister said, but cautioned: “The games will be a great thing for many of us, but not for everyone.”
Hotel rooms will fill, but others in the hospitality industry might not do much better than usual. The lesson of Prince George, the last city to host the games, was that driving a food truck from Vancouver to get a piece of the games action won’t pay for the gas.
Hosting the games comes with guaranteed contributions from official corporate partners. Professional fundraisers will be hired to solicit more from national and local sponsors, who will be asked to contribute up to $1 million in cash, supplies or services.
Cross-country ski trails, a centre for the games’ cultural components, and athlete housing – destined to become accommodations for seniors and/or Aurora College students – were the main legacy items identified.
The territorial government has publicly committed more than once to financing the athletes’ housing, but MLA Wendy Bisaro said the city needs to see that in writing before the life of the current legislature ends in October.
“I would not like to see our city do this with no more than a ‘maybe’ from the government,” Bisaro told the meeting.
John Dalton relayed “coffee shop talk” to the committee. The legacy of the games will be higher taxes, added to the increased costs of maintaining former games facilities.
“The fear is that the games will cost us for a long time,” Dalton said. “That is the concern – increased costs.”
As an antidote to such skepticism, it was suggested that an advance cadre of volunteers could “talk up the games,” but it was conceded that people might not be “willing to jump on the bandwagon until we’re further down the road.”