Stan Bartlett | Guest Comment
Without question there are major short and long-term benefits to Victoria hosting the Commonwealth Games 2022, but how much will it cost us and what risks are we taking?
The bid committee is looking at building new housing, better sports facilities and infusing hundreds of millions of dollars into the community. Perhaps the greatest potential legacy would be the opportunity for our sometimes fractured community to work collectively as one instead of 13.
But, before irrational exuberance takes over, taxpayers should demand that an extremely strong business case be prepared and examined by an independent third party, a financial accounting firm such as KPMG or MNP.
Understand, we are not nattering nabobs of negativism. If the numbers add up, great – let the 2022 Commonwealth Games begin! – but the decision to proceed needs to be approached with caution and due diligence.
These are some of the reasons a solid business plan needs to be shared with the community:
This is not 1994. By most accounts the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria was a success. Times have changed in the last quarter century and it’s a different society, economy and volunteer base.
Four-year time-frame. Normally a community has seven years to prepare, but because of withdrawals and disqualifications Victoria will only have four years. A shorter period is likely to escalate labour and building costs – it’s essentially a last minute bid for a hugely complex project.
Support not unanimous. In 2015 Victoria sent a letter of support for the Games signed by only 10 of the 13 municipalities. Are there still dissenting municipalities, and given the scope and ramifications of the project, shouldn’t unanimous support be needed?
Labour issues emerging. In recent months there have been a couple projects delayed because of project costs escalating. In both cases availability of labour and a sole source bid were cited.
Security costs unknown. Given the world today and the preoccupation with security, who knows what security costs will add up to. It’s a very significant wild card that’s difficult to budget.
Potential adverse publicity. While the community gains if the Games succeed, there’s a big downside if it’s a failure. Any major problems would be broadcast around the world, damaging our existing quality brand.
Provincial taxpayer hit. We are all one taxpayer here, and the provincial taxpayer will also be hit. Given the lengthy lists of promises and political instability, how solid is any commitment to provide funding?
Local agenda dominated. This mega event will dominate the local agenda for years pushing sewer treatment, aging infrastructure, transportation and dysfunctional regional governance and other important issues to the back burner.
Incremental tax revenue. What share of incremental tax revenue will the local taxpayers be left with for their efforts?
Other bids nixed. It is worth examining why Toronto withdrew its bid after concluding the risks and costs were too high. Critics argued that homelessness, addiction and mental illness issues were a priority.
Spotty track record. Like it or not, around the world there’s a lengthy trail of mega-sporting event failures that taxpayers are still paying off. There are reasons the Olympics, World Cup and the Commonwealth Games have difficulties with finding host cities. By its nature, the Commonwealth Games will not attract the US or European entourages or business but a smaller market further away.
A vigorous business case, with the pros and cons examined thoroughly, will help taxpayers make up their mind about sponsoring the Commonwealth Games 2022.
This mega-sports project, with broader community support and commitment, certainly has the potential to throw us into the world spotlight, grow our community and give it a huge economic boost.
But with the current political instability in B.C., the issue of obtaining provincial and federal financial support to hold the Games and mitigate any downsides is far from certain and poses an undue risk to taxpayers.
After all is said and done, local taxpayers want to know if they can still afford to feed seagulls at the beach.
Stan Bartlett is the chair of Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, a advocacy group dedicated to lower taxes, less waste, and more accountable municipal government.