Olympic issues now out of Whistler’s hands

Interesting how Olympic bids evolve and perspectives on problems change.

A month and a half ago Whistler was the stick in the spokes of the Vancouver 2010 bid. Whistler council hadn’t officially said yeah or nay to the bid and the negotiations with the province on the "legacies" – the land bank, financial tools and expanded municipal boundaries – were coming down to the wire. The bid book had to be printed and Whistler had yet to endorse the bid.

On Oct. 21, after a promise from the premier that he would work to convince his cabinet that Whistler needs financial tools, council endorsed the bid by a 6-1 margin.

Then along came Vancouver mayoral candidate Larry Campbell and his promise to hold a referendum on the Olympics. Campbell and his COPE party swept the Vancouver civic election on Nov. 16 and suddenly Whistler’s endorsement of the Olympic bid seemed like a tiny detail that was taken care of a long time ago.

Mayor Campbell and COPE have now discovered that the word "referendum" has a legal definition and that to hold one will cost the city well over a million dollars, so they’re considering a plebiscite. But the seed of doubt has been sewn.

This week we find out that the provincial government’s plan to have a private sector firm pay $200 million to build the expanded Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre, in return for future convention revenues, didn’t work. The prime minister arrived in Vancouver Wednesday to pledge more than $200 million for the $495 million facility, which would be the main media centre during the 2010 Games, but the province may be hard pressed to come up with its share.

Then there was the law suit filed against ICBC because the crown corporation has contributed $1.8 million to the Olympic bid. How far the suit gets is another matter, but until a judge throws it out it will be one more question mark hanging over the bid.

And while self-immolation sometimes seems to threaten the Vancouver 2010 bid, there are also external forces at work. A couple of weekends ago New York City quietly won the U.S. Olympic Committee’s support to be the official U.S. bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. New York joined a list of contenders for 2012 that reads like a Great Cities of the World atlas: Berlin, Paris, Rome, London and Toronto are all considering bids, depending on who is awarded the 2010 Winter Games next July.

Theory number 724 on how IOC members may vote in July goes like this: the Summer Olympics are the real deal, much bigger and more lucrative than the Winter Games, and with all the great capitals of Europe and North America interested in hosting them in 2012, to get the absolute best bid and a level playing field perhaps the 2010 Winter Olympics should go to a city that isn’t in North America or Europe. That would be Pyeongchang, Korea.

Korea is apparently "investing" a lot of money in African countries that have a vote on where the Games of 2010 will be held. Korea’s top car maker is also interested in supplanting Daimler Chrysler as the official supplier of ground transportation to the IOC.

But then again, maybe IOC delegates will surprise everyone and just vote for the city with the best bid next July.

Regardless, the Olympic bid is just about out of Whistler’s hands now, although a little snow on the ground during the IOC inspection in March and any showing of public support would help. Vancouver has its issues to deal with, Victoria has its issues and the IOC will do what it does.

Whistler is ready to get back to its own issues, some of which include the "legacies" from the province, the land bank and the financial tools. It’s time to explore those in detail: what does "financial tools" mean in dollars – who is giving, who is receiving and what will that money be used for? What are Whistler’s plans for the Callaghan, and what are the Squamish Nation’s plans and the Lil’wat’s plans for that area? And what are Whistler’s plans for resident housing and affordability, two issues which jumped to the front of the line during the municipal election campaign?

While the Olympic questions are sorted out elsewhere, these are issues that the new council – with the help of the people of Whistler – must tackle in the new year.

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