After the B.C. government this week bailed on supporting an Indigenous-led bid to host the 2030 Olympics, minds flashed back to the successful 2010 effort.
Years of angst, big spending and arguments culminated in two weeks of exuberant fun, and a national moment in the Golden Goal. Whether it was worth the estimated $2-billion price tag is impossible to quantify, but most feel the Winter Games were a success.
In 2022, in the midst of a pandemic and at the outset of an economic slump, another memory comes to mind: Expo 86.
A lot of spending went into making that world’s fair in Vancouver the success it was. And most of it occurred during a severe recession arising out of an inflation cycle that eventually drove interest rates past 20 per cent. (See my self-help lecture: “How I Turned $60,000 Worth of Real Estate Into $500 in Hard Cash”)
The hundreds of millions that went into site preparation, rapid transit, the Coquihalla Highway and other projects kept a lot of people working during the downturn.
And the after-effects were staggering. False Creek alone is a monument to Expo 86. The sustained growth through the 1990s is the legacy.
It’s tempting to remember the Expo 86 bounce, picture replicating it with an Indigenous-led 2030 Olympics and think: “Let’s do it again.”
The NDP government this week resisted that temptation and bailed out. It’s probably the best move, but it could have been an interesting economic experiment in putting theories about spending your way out of a recession to a test.
B.C.’s share of the bid cost was pegged at $1.2 billion, with another billion needed for guarantees (and therefore put at risk), said the government.
The problem: B.C. is already spending its way out of a pandemic. There are limits.
Tourism Minister Lisa Beare said while the prospect was exciting, the direct and hidden costs could jeopardize government programs. “Based on careful consideration, the province is declining to support the bid.”
So when it comes to global sporting attention, B.C. will have to make do with the 2025 Invictus Games and 10 early-round soccer games in the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
Beare said the four First Nations (Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil Waututh) that drove the unique bid are “extraordinarily disappointed.”
Leaders are as profoundly unhappy with the process that led to the decision as with the decision itself. They said they were cut out of any dialogue about the idea.
The NDP cabinet is only six months past the debacle that was the Royal B.C. Museum announcement, when Premier John Horgan blind-sided everyone with a $789-million replacement project that would have closed the museum for several years.
After five weeks of intense criticism, Horgan capitulated and announced “back to the drawing board.”
So B.C. — but mostly Vancouver and Whistler — loses out on the potential of another party of a lifetime. But 2010 would have been hard to replicate, anyway. Sequels are never as good as the orginals.
There’s some lost potential in housing, as well. In the run-up to the 2010 Games there was a hike in housing programs. Officials denied any linkage, but it looked like an effort to absolve the government of staging a circus at the expense of people desperate for homes.
Whatever the case, the highest profile Games housing is now luxury condos, and the Downtown Eastside is the worst it’s ever been.
The biggest problem with extracting long-term benefits out of showpiece events is the security bill.
In terms of spending, modern post-Munich Olympics are a global police and military expo, with a televised sports meet on the side. The original security budget for the 2010 Games was $175 million, but it clocked in at about $900 million by the time the party was over.
Nobody comes out ahead with sunk costs like that.
Just So You Know: The decision was made during the premiers’ transition, apparently to shield premier-designate David Eby from any blowback.
But Opposition Liberals resurrected an old video clip of him as a civil rights lawyer on a panel, sneering at the Games and those who enjoyed them. He said they were turning Vancouver into a police state. He dismissed people “apparently uncritically attending Olympic events, not thinking about the impact on the Olympics have on … public funding for education, health and housing…”
So Indigenous-led or otherwise, it seems it would have been thumbs down, no matter who was premier.
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