The TORONTO PAN-AM GAMES 2015 -Using Sports Mega Events For The Manipulation Of The Public Purse
I guess the secret is out. Yes it is true. Apparently Toronto and Hamilton are hosting the 2015 Pan Am Games. Canadians are fortunate to be in several large associations of nations, namely the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, and the Organization of American States, and NATO. Canadians, due to their historical ties and cultural development, are able to field national teams for the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games, and the Pan Am Games. Now based on viewership and national support, it appears Canadians love the Olympic Games, be they winter or summer games. Canadians also love the Commonwealth Games. But when it comes to the Pan Am Games, well, let’s just say, they are in the public perception, “The I Don’t Care Games”.
I am one of those fiscally responsible tax spending advocates. I am a socially and fiscally small “c” conservative, and I cringe at the big spending that I have witnessed, and that I, as a Canadian citizen and tax payer have to put up with, and see more and more added to the national and provincial debts, that will ultimately be passed on to my own children and their children. So, when I hear that another Canadian city has been awarded a major international sporting event, I usually cringe, and when I hear the fiscal numbers for putting the event on, I am wanting an inquiry and the prosecution of all those politicians that agreed to the aforementioned event and made the financial commitment to those aforementioned organizations.
We all know of the Olympic and the FIFA scandals, and the exorbitant costs of putting on the games for a city and a country. In our own country, the city of Montreal (my favorite Canadian city and where I first lived when my family came to Canada) put on the Summer Olympics in 1976. It took 30 years… Yes, I said 30 years to pay off the $1.5 billion debt from those games. The total cost for Montreal was $207 million. In May of 1976 there was a special tax introduced to fund the loss. The initial budget was $1.41 billion. The profit/loss was negative $990 million, and this took 30 years to pay off. There has been an ongoing battle between the city of Montreal and the province of Quebec. Even after the debt being paid, the province tried to pawn off the Olympic stadium and the city refused to take on the burden of the costs. The province of Quebec absorbs an annual deficit of about $20 million for the Olympic Installations Board, the agency that manages the facilities. It must also spend $6 million a year for the next 30 years for the stadium’s new roof. This becomes a burden on provincial tax payers.
The Calgary Winter Games of 1988 had a total cost of $438 million and an initial budget of $899 million, with a taxpayer contribution of $425 million. The Calgary Olympics made a profit of $32 million. This is a sharp contrast to what happened in Montreal in 1976.
The 2010 Vancouver Winter Games had a total cost of $1.7 billion, and a budget of $6.4 billion. The tax payer contribution was $2.3 billion. At the end of the day, the cost for the Vancouver games was $925 million, of which 74% went toward sports venues, transportation and other investments. Rabble.ca has a great post about the whole bidding process and the campaign of misinformation in order to win the bid and host the Vancouver games.
I am one of those “I Don’t Care Games” persons, who doesn’t give a rip about the Pan Am Games. I never have. Ever.
So back to the Toronto Pan Am Games 2015. It seems that the Kool-Aid was drunk with the belief that the putting on of the games was a way to get government funding (our taxes) to help develop the games with infrastructure, and generate revenue by putting on the games, and hopefully be able to use all those developments and infrastructure to benefit the cities and the province after the games are completed and everyone has gone home. But are the costs worth the cost?
If you are in the GTA you will likely love the fact that the infrastructure made for the development of the West Don Lands neighborhood, which was a big mess, and developed the Pan Am Athletes Village. They also built 253 affordable housing units, a new YMCA, an 18 acre public park, and also much needed flood protection for a swath of downtown Toronto. The city of Toronto also benefited from a new world class Sports Centre in Scarborough, and some other sports facilities as well as major public art. You can thank the rigid time line of the games for getting the work done on time to complete the Queens Quay and the improved Union Station. One of the perks out of this is that there is an actual train that goes to Pearson Airport now. All this happened for ONE reason. Toronto bid to host the Pan Am Games, and won the bid, and had to set up all this infrastructure to be able to pull it off. Even if the games themselves are not well attended or the viewership is not great, it will have been deemed a success because of all the infrastructure that was built for the city.
Toronto and the GTA were not the only communities involved in this 2015 Pan Am Games. Hamilton was part of the bid and a host of the games. Hamilton had its stadium developed to host the football (soccer) games of the Pan Am Games. The stadium was finished at the end of last May, which was almost a full year after the projected deadline of last year. The costs of the stadium was $145 million. There are even now so many overruns in timelines missed and cost overruns that there are sure to be lawsuits after the games are over. After the games are complete, the stadium will be leased to the CFL Tiger-Cats on a 20 year term. The city of Hamilton is the owner of the stadium, and put $54 million into its construction, with further funding coming from the provincial and federal governments. As one city of Hamilton counselor said, “We wouldn’t have got this stadium if it wasn’t for hosting the soccer for Pan Am Games… but, by gosh, they sure put a lot of stress on us.”
In the end I am left asking what many are asking, and that is “Why?”
Why are all the infrastructure costs funded through tax dollars to host these large sporting events? Why does the government have to resort to the public purse to fund these infrastructure costs, when their purse strings should be open anyway for these same costs. Why seduce and entice the public with these big sports events in order to open up the purse strings. Be honest and up front and stay what the costs are and let the people decide. Infrastructure is needed, and it should be a regular part of every city, region, and province in this country. It should not take the hosting of a major sports event to get tax dollars spent on infrastructure. Will other cities in Canada learn from this? Or will they too want infrastructure dollars to support a major athletic event to galvanize the drive for funds for the expense of building all that infrastructure they want and need to have?