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‘The energy and care we have put in is not lost’

Olympic dreams dashed: proponents disappointed after B.C. NDP withholds support, crushing Indigenous-led bid for 2030
Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton, left, chats with community members at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre about a draft hosting concept for the 2030 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games earlier this summer.

Efforts to bring the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games back to Whistler and Vancouver in 2030 are over.

Lisa Beare, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, announced on Oct. 27 that the province would not support a 2030 Olympics in B.C., killing the bid in its tracks less than one year after four First Nations, together with the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and City of Vancouver, announced plans to explore the feasibility of hosting the first-ever Indigenous-led Games. The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) officially came onboard in January. 

“We entered the process believing in the vision shared by the Lil’wat, Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh [First Nations],” said Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton in a written statement to Pique on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

“It is disappointing to see our efforts, and the effort of the many parties who invested in this process, come to an early conclusion. With this said, the energy and care we have put in is not lost. As a result of this work, we now share a much deeper connection with both the Lil’wat Nation and Squamish Nation. We also have a better understanding of how we can approach our role in ensuring reconciliation remains at the forefront in everything we do.”

In the statement, Crompton thanked Tourism Whistler, Whistler Blackcomb, the community and RMOW staff for their contributions to the bid exploration and invited those groups to continue, “upholding our commitment to reconciliation.”

Crompton joined leaders from the four Host First Nations, the CPC and the COC on Friday, Oct. 28, for an hour-long media briefing held in response to the province’s decision. The briefing took place at the BC Sports Hall of Fame in Vancouver. 

First Nations leaders in attendance Friday expressed not just disappointment with the province’s refusal to support what COC president Tricia Smith called “a responsible bid,” but frustration with what they described as a lack of consultation prior to that decision being made and a direct hit to reconciliation.

“True reconciliation was never acted upon,” said Squamish Nation Councillor Sxwíxwtn Wilson Williams during the briefing. “We were suffocated from a true colonial process.”

Wilson acknowledged “the omission of support from the governments would kill the bid,” but left the door open to re-igniting discussions with the province. “We’re saying that we’re still here to have that conversation,” he said. “We want meaningful dialogue. If we want true reconciliation, we need to be in the room talking ... as an equal voice.”

Lil’wat Nation Chief Dean Nelson was unable to attend the briefing. (Pique reached out to the Nation for a comment on the province’s decision for this story, but did not receive a response before deadline.)

'The $2 billion in direct costs and risks were just far too great'

Beare said B.C.’s NDP government declined support for the bid after carefully weighing its costs, risks and potential benefits with current priorities like health-care, education, public safety, and affordability. B.C.’s existing commitments to host the Invictus Games in 2025 and the FIFA World Cup the following year also factored in, she said.

In terms of consultation with bid proponents, "it doesn't seem like the government did the work they should have been doing," said Jordan Sturdy, MLA for West Vancouver-Sea to Sky and a member of the B.C. Liberal Party. In Sturdy's view, it appears "communication was lacking. And given what this government talks about [in terms of reconciliation], that was a bit surprising."

That said, "I’ve not been convinced [an Olympic bid] is necessarily a good idea or something the corridor needs," Sturdy explained.

Sea to Sky communities are already facing the challenging task of striking the right balance when it comes to managing tourism growth, he said, adding, "I'm not convinced we need to go out there and drive more visits without a solid plan of how we’re going to manage what we’re already seeing."

While Sturdy acknowledged a 2030 bid would likely have been advantageous for Whistler's 2010 legacy venues, like Whistler Olympic Park and the Whistler Sliding Centre, and created additional employee housing opportunities for Whistler, those same benefits wouldn't necessarily be seen in Squamish or Pemberton. 

"And if we're waiting eight or nine years [for housing], that’s too long to wait," Sturdy said. "We need to grapple with that issue now, not in 2030."

A business proposal submitted to the B.C. government reportedly sought $2.12 billion in cash and in-kind public funding to stage the Olympics. Half of that would have come from the federal government, while the province would also have been saddled with underwriting any deficits resulting from the Games. 

During question period in the B.C. Legislature on Monday, Oct. 31, Beare said the four Host First Nations initially approached the province a year ago to inquire about support for a 2030 bid. Beare said her office received an official proposal from the feasibility team “in the past two weeks,” alongside a request for a letter of support needed to enter into targeted dialogue with the International Olympic Committee, the next stage ahead of submitting a formal bid.

The four Host First Nations, the COC, the CPC and participating municipalities “mounted what is an incredible bid—the first First Nations-led bid—and it’s a model that truly deserves to be applauded,” Beare said. Denying it support was “a difficult decision,” she added. 

“Cabinet reviewed that proposal and cabinet made a decision that ultimately the $2 billion in direct costs and risks were just far too great, and we would not be able to pursue the bid at this time,” she explained. Beare said she met with the Nations last Monday, Oct. 24 to relay the decision, and “provided an opportunity for them to meet with me in person to discuss that if they wish.” 

Her clarification came in response to questions from numerous BC Liberal MLAs Monday, including official opposition house leader Todd Stone, who framed the decision as premier-designate David Eby’s alone. 

“First Nations had actually written to the incoming premier,”—who was a staunch opponent of the 2010 Games, recalled Stone—“and urged him to meet with them to discuss any concerns that he might have with the bid. And the respect they were shown by the incoming premier was not to get back to them, not to meet them, and then to have the rug pulled out from underneath them.”

The decision was made collectively by cabinet, rebutted Beare.