AG’s report raises questions for Whistler

By Bob Barnett

It’s important to remember that Acting Auditor General Arn van Iersel’s report on the 2010 Olympics is, as its subtitle states, “A Review of Estimates Related to the Province’s Commitments.” That is, it’s a look at what the province, as the final guarantor of the Olympics, and by extension, provincial taxpayers, could be on the hook for.

The most immediate and sensational story to come out of the acting auditor general’s report last week was his statement that the Sea to Sky Highway upgrade, the RAV line and other Olympic related projects should be considered Olympic costs, and thus the full cost of the Games, at this time, is an estimated $2.5 billion. The argument about whether those costs should be included in the Games costs may continue for another 10 years, but van Iersel also shed some light on things that Whistler, in particular, should be concerned about.

At Saturday’s very successful celebration to unveil the Paralympic logo, VANOC board chair Jack Poole told the crowd that construction of Olympic facilities is on time and on budget. And at this point one would have to agree. But a more relevant question for Whistler is: What compromises are being made to make sure that happens?

Quite correctly, VANOC’s number one priority seems to be delivering the Games on time and on budget. But as van Iersel’s report shows, in an era of rising construction costs and with time starting to wind down, post-Games plans have become a secondary consideration.

Take, for instance, the Whistler Legacies Society, which has not yet been formed but which will own and operate the Whistler Nordic Centre, Whistler Sliding Centre and Whistler Athletes’ Centre following the Games. The society could include representation from the federal, provincial, Whistler and Vancouver governments, the Canadian Olympic Committee, the Canadian Paralympic Committee, VANOC, and the Lil’wat and Squamish Nations. The society will start with a $110 million operating trust to cover operating losses at the facilities. The province has committed to giving the society favourable lease terms for the Crown land the facilities are on.

According to van Iersel, any losses incurred by the Nordic centre, sliding centre or athletes’ centre in their post-Games operations will become a provincial cost, after the $110 million trust is used up. This, in fact, is what has happened with the 1988 Olympic ski jump facilities in Calgary.

Van Iersel wrote: “Business plans have been developed by VANOC to assess the future operating costs and revenues of the Whistler Sliding Centre and Whistler Nordic Centre legacy venues. The post-Games business plan for the Whistler Nordic Centre recommended add-on options such as additional trail development, a sizable day lodge, and food and beverage concessions so that post-Games revenues could be maximized. However, in the latest cost estimates of VANOC, the total length of trails has been reduced from 75 kilometres to 26 kilometres and the area of the proposed Nordic day lodge has been reduced to reduce capital costs. This will affect the ability of that venue to generate the revenues anticipated by the post-Games business plan. ” (italics added )

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