With a new provincial government working on its budget and the Victoria 2022 Commonwealth Games bid team working feverishly to have its submission ready by Sept. 30, timing was the enemy for those looking to bring the event to the city.
Last Thursday, in advance of a scheduled Aug. 28 meeting with bid committee chair David Black, B.C. Finance Minister Carole James announced that the Province of B.C. would not be supporting the bid with $400 million in funding and a guarantee to cover any cost overruns.
James stated that the NDP were elected with “a very clear set of priorities” to make life more affordable for B.C. residents and add to long-term economic growth around the province. She said the government will consider future bid proposals “when there is more time to do the work necessary to protect B.C. taxpayers from financial insecurity.”
Suzanne Weckend, a member of the bid committee and former national team high-performance triathlete, told the News in an interview Sunday that the compressed timelines “made it trickier for us to fully explain and express the legacy pieces and the actual costs” to government and the public.
“Our bid really wanted to be a catalyst in the community … once the multi-sporting high performance event had taken place, there were legacy items – infrastructure and capacity, with people having volunteer experience – that would remain,” she said.
While built legacies such as Saanich Commonwealth Place and the family housing at the University of Victoria – both initially constructed for the 1994 Commonwealth Games – come to mind when one thinks post-Games, less visual benefits are also part of the package, Weckend said.
“There were 4,000 to 5,000 people who were trained in CPR for the 1994 Games,” she said. “That a legacy piece that you don’t really think about.”
Competitively, the high-performance coach and athlete development that ramp up when a city hosts an event such as the Commonwealth Games will go down as a missed opportunity, she added. The bid was being assembled in co-operation with plans already in the works by national sport organizations in Victoria and elsewhere.
James said the government analyzed the bid committee’s work and found that too many details remained unknown to gain a full understanding of “the costs, obligations and risks associated with hosting such a large-scale event.”
Weckend agreed that given the time crunch, the bid committee didn’t focus a lot of time on getting its message out there. “In my opinion, the people who were really vocal and negative about it, they didn’t have a lot of information.”
Stan Bartlett, chair of the Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, was among the more vocal opponents of the 2022 bid. He insisted he wasn’t opposed to the Games themselves, but was responding to what he felt was a lack of advance planning.
“The magnitude of these games is huge,” Bartlett said. “It’s not 1994. This is a huge undertaking and it can’t be rushed if you want to do it properly. Four years is not long enough.”
While some of the proposed projects had merit, Bartlett felt throwing a “Commonwealth Games extravaganza” wasn’t how the bill should be paid. “You should be able to fund them on their own if they’re good projects.”
Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said she wasn’t surprised at the province’s decision, based on the short time frame and unanswered budget questions. Her municipality and the other 12 in the Capital Region were being asked to provide a total of $25 million in in-kind services, while the province and federal governments were being asked for $400 million each.
“I’m very hopeful the province will now look at providing dollars for transport and housing in our region, ‘cause $400 million can go a long way,” she said.
Like James, Desjardins isn’t ruling out a future bid for Greater Victoria and remains hopeful for those opportunities down the road. “This is a tremendous region for these types of events, but we need to do it in a proper timeline and with proper infrastructure.”
– with files from Kristyn Anthony