Head To Head: Should YK Bid on the Canada Winter Games?

What do you think? Vote in our poll below.

NO, says Richard Morland, a mining engineer with 33 years’ experience in the resource industry in Australia and Canada. The former BHP Billiton vice president of operations, president and COO of Ekati Diamond Mine, Richard has lived in Yellowknife for nearly 10 years.

When governments and their bureaucracies want to create activity as a substitute for meaningful action, they usually construct a building, or develop a training course. In Yellowknife, we can add a new item to the list. Here we have the municipal and territorial governments collaborating to hold a party in a few years’ time, in the form of the Canada Winter Games.

Instead of city council rejecting this romantic thought-bubble of an idea out of hand, it has formed a committee to give credibility to this reckless folly. This committee does not meet publicly and does not divulge information to stakeholders. It appears to be working from a starting point of when, not if, the Games will be held.

We have already heard a pronouncement by an engineer on the committee that “we can make this work.” Engineers always make things work. However, flawlessly executing a bad plan does not make it a good plan.

In a city with strong population growth and a need for facilities that a growing population and tax base can both use and support financially, the Games might make sense.

Yellowknife does not now, nor will it any time over the next decade, possess those attributes.

When the overruns come

There will be a reliance on significant corporate support to fund the Games. In the face of the sustained decline in the resource industry between now and 2023, where will those corporate dollars come from? Who will pay the bills if corporate support is insufficient to cover actual costs when the inevitable overruns occur?

The two arms of government have announced that some of the infrastructure built for the Games could be re-purposed after the event. What will be the additional capital and ongoing operating costs? The Council has dithered interminably over the repurposing of a vacant car park. How will they take on a comprehensive construction and repurposing of significant infrastructure?

The apparent urgency — “because we might miss out on the benefits if we don’t do it” as one retiring councillor has declared — is a fiction. This story relies on selectively narrated anecdotes, furnished by self-interested politicians and bureaucrats, from other cities that bear no resemblance to Yellowknife.

There are more pressing issues

Taxpayers have a right to be dismayed about city council and the GNWT collaborating on this venture, when there are clearly more pressing issues to be concerned with. It demonstrates an unwillingness or inability on the part of the council and its administration to stay on mission in running the business of the city.

The council and its administration are tasked to supply clean water, provide good roads, ensure public safety, collect the garbage, operate and maintain the sewage system, provide public amenities consistent with the size and demographics of our community while creating the environment for a strong local economy.

The council has no mandate to commit Yellowknife to an event that:

– is not needed to secure Yellowknife’s place in the world;

– will be in a diminished form that will not enhance Yellowknife’s reputation;

– will divert resources away from things which are important to the daily lives of YK residents;

– will leave a legacy of expensive, unused facilities and buildings;

– will create a burden for business;

– will result in even higher taxes and economic hardship for residents before and after 2023.

No doubt there are those in both council and administration who are looking to their legacy. Proceeding with the bid will guarantee that they will be remembered as economic vandals who committed this city to an unneeded event that provided no net benefit to the local economy and left taxpayers on the hook for decades afterwards.

This process must be stopped now, with no hope of resurrection.

This isn’t visionary. This isn’t “for our people.” It is a distraction from the important work of government, borne of reckless self-indulgence on the part of some politicians and bureaucrats.

***

YES, says EDGE Publisher Brent Reaney, who’s worked for clients across the North in journalism and communications for more than 10 years. He also holds a degree in business in administration and first arrived in Yellowknife 11 years ago.

Let’s ignore the bureaucratic bungling and recognize the Canada Winter Games for what they are: an opportunity to showcase our region to the rest of Canada, improve our athletes, bolster our sports facilities and inject money into our economy. In so many ways, the rewards outweigh the potential risks, such as infrastructure cost overruns or a shortage of volunteers.

Yes, the City’s done an embarrassing job distributing information and selling its project vision. Yes, the territorial government’s waffling on whether it will fund the Athlete’s Village is a joke. And yes, given the sucking vacuum of information on the project’s cost, it’s important to remain cautious.

Even so, let’s assume our two levels of government can eventually work together to execute the games in a way that won’t bankrupt the City or territory.

Let’s also assume that dealing with an influx of thousands of visitors, athletes and media is a good problem to have. It’s also one we can deal with, if our territorial government does something similar to what the Yukon did in 2007 and offers paid time off to public servants who volunteer.

Then there’s the many millions to be spent on infrastructure. I’ll forgive anyone who’s scared some or all of the projects will cost more than expected. I’ll even concede this is likely to happen.

Look west

After all, it did in Whitehorse. This past January, EDGE writer Mark Rendell called around Whitehorse to see how people there felt eight years after their games. With a final cost of $120 million, surely someone regretted the City moving ahead with them. Surprisingly, they didn’t.

You can read the story to see the details on the economic benefit, as well as the boost to sport and tourism. But the most compelling quote comes from Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis: “The cartoonists were beating up the mayor at the time, and there was a very vocal minority…[But] you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who speaks badly of the games now.”

And while the games will be expensive in any incarnation, unfortunately the “this money could be better spent elsewhere” argument doesn’t hold. Sure, you could think of 20 better ways to use the money. But without a national focus like the games, which aim to prepare future Canadian Olympians for success on the world stage, you can’t unlock this kind of investment from all levels of government. It really is all or nothing, and if we pass on the opportunity, we won’t get another shot until 2049.

National exposure

Even if most Yellowknifers hadn’t heard of the games until a few months ago, during the event they’re broadcast nationally for two to three hours daily on TSN. That means someone’s watching. That also means someone’s going to see lifestyle stories about the community, as well as beautiful shots of Yellowknife in the month of March.

You know what some of those people are going to do? They’re going to visit the territory and might even decide they want to live here.

Numbers from the Whitehorse games back this up. Nearly 70 percent of visitors surveyed said they had a “greatly increased awareness” of the Yukon and “more interest in visiting” the territory, and a quarter suggested there was “a high likelihood” they would return as tourists within the next two years.

Also similar to the Whitehorse experience, the entire territory will have to pull together to successfully host and showcase our northern home. We’ll need volunteers from every community, as well as significant money from the territorial government. Hosting the games won’t be easy, but we can and should take advantage of the opportunity.

What do you think? Vote in our EDGE Poll:

Should we host the 2023 Canada Winter Games?

    View ResultsPoll total answers: 77Poll total votes: 77

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