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Maxed Out: Farewell, bid

'The provincial government made the right decision.'
We hardly knew ye.

’Tis but a scratch!

-the Black Knight

Hewing to the path of least resistance, it’s not often I applaud steps taken by the provincial government. Far more satisfying to snipe about an unnecessary election call to stroke the premier’s ego or the potentially ruinous financial decision to move forward with the Site C dam rather than give it the death it so rightly deserves.

But sometimes they manage to get it right. Sometimes they make a tough decision that’ll have political fallout. Yes, sometimes they surprise us.

And so it was two weeks ago when Lisa Beare, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, announced the cabinet’s decision the province would not support the 2030 Olympic™ bid. While the decision surprised many—and pissed off more than a few—it probably shouldn’t have come as the surprise so many thought. Nor should it have raised the ire of those who felt slighted.

Melanie Mark, then B.C.’s tourism minister, put the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and bid backers on notice last July that they weren’t going to get a free ride from the province. She told them the province wouldn’t consider supporting the bid until the COC showed proof the participating four First Nations and communities—three in total: Vancouver, Whistler and Kamloops—were willing to ante up their share of the costs.

She was looking for, “Letters of support and minutes or resolutions from Indigenous governing bodies and local government councils...” She also wanted proof their support reflected outcomes of local public engagement. Oh, and she wanted it by the middle of August.

The bid, announced in February, was dubbed the Indigenous-led bid after four First Nations—the Lil’wat, Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh—signed an agreement with the City of Vancouver, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee to explore a possible bid. To broaden the appeal, Kamloops was added along the way, with Sun Peaks to host some of the snow events.

Vancouver council signed on in July. Whistler’s council was supportive from the start. Kamloops came on board in August. None had reached out for that necessary public support.

There was much written and said about the alleged strength of the bid, particularly the perceived extent to which facilities from the 2010 Games might be put back into use. There was also a lot of speculation the various senior levels of government would be hesitant to not back the bid because of the inclusion of the four First Nations.

But common sense prevailed when the business proposal was submitted to the province. It reportedly asked for $2.12 billion in cash and other support to host the Games, half from the province and half from the federal government. In addition, the province would guarantee any deficits.

Given the track record of the last Olympics™, where security alone was estimated to cost in the neighbourhood of a billion dollars and endemic cost overruns occurred, there is every reason to believe the proposed budget was light. It also failed to answer the province’s query about how much skin the First Nations and host venues were going to have in the game.

The response was, well, predictable. The province’s lack of backing was derided as a slap to the face of true reconciliation. 

But was it?

As Minister Beare outlined the process, the four First Nations came to the province about a year ago to make initial queries about provincial support for the bid. She was silent as to what, if any, encouragement was given to the idea, but clearly by last summer, the province’s position was made clear. 

Beare said she received the official proposal in the two weeks prior to the announcement the province would take a pass on it. And while she praised the bid, Beare indicated the cabinet came to the decision to not support it on the basis of the costs involved, the risks inherent, and the obvious fact the money could be better spent on higher-priority needs across the province.

She also said this decision had been communicated to the First Nations several days prior to the announcement being made.

That the province could find more productive ways to spend $1 billion plus goes without saying. From one end of the province to the other, health-care—a provincial responsibility—is a shambles. Emergency rooms in many communities have reduced hours or have shuttered entirely for periods of time. If you and your family have a family doctor, count yourselves fortunate and hope she or he doesn’t plan on retiring any time soon. People are leaving the profession faster than they can be replaced. And this province isn’t alone facing these challenges. 

Explain to someone waiting hours in the hallways of an emergency ward why hosting the Olympics™ is a higher priority than them getting in to see a doc before they pass out or give up.

And that’s the low-hanging fruit of health-care. It’s likely to get attention long before issues of mental health and well-being see much in the way of relief. Ask the people providing support and assistance on the ground whether they’d rather fund another bread and circus or see the people they deal with every day get the mental health counselling and access to treatment they desperately need.

Even though he chastised the NDP government’s communication and consultation efforts, our own Liberal MLA, Jordan Sturdy, wasn’t convinced the bid was, “necessarily a good idea or something the corridor needs.” Acknowledging the potential benefits for Whistler, he saw little in the proposal benefiting either Pemberton or Squamish. 

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The benefits for the rest of the province were not only zero, they were negative. Outside our bubble, there was considerable resentment over the money spent for the 2010 Games. It was seen as largesse flowing to Vancouver and Whistler while other communities not only didn’t benefit but saw needed provincial funds dry up, something they attributed directly to the Games.

The provincial government made the right decision. With the challenges currently facing all B.C. communities, and especially many First Nations communities, and with rampant inflation and the very real potential for a recession in the new year, squandering billions on a circus that promised benefits to only a few would have been indefensible. 

Reconciliation is a journey, a process. Done well, it will forge a new way forward where both sides win—not everything they want, but something. Done poorly, it will be a perpetual zero sum game with winners and losers. But if reconciliation means reasonable minds can’t come to different conclusions, it’s just a stalemate. And no one wins.