An Indigenous-backed bid to bring the Winter Olympics back to British Columbia’s Lower Mainland in 2030 cleared a challenging hurdle Wednesday, when Vancouver’s city councillors voted to have staff continue negotiating with local First Nations and the Canadian Olympics Committee to get a proposal ready by January.
Although councillors appeared wary of making any kind of firm commitment without more information, all but two agreed that they had made a promise to do an exploratory journey with First Nations and they should continue on that road.
They also voted against Councillor Colleen Hardwick’s proposal that voters should be asked in the Oct. 15 municipal election whether they support the bid or not. Some argued that there wouldn’t be anywhere near enough details available about the proposal by October so voters could make an informed choice. The proposal couldn’t be held any later either, as the International Olympic Committee needs a firm commitment from potential host cities before it awards the Games.
The occasionally tense meeting saw councillors scrutinize a staff report from deputy city manager Karen Levitt that painted an extremely unencouraging picture. The report raised questions about whether there was enough time and resources to work on all the very complex negotiations that will be involved in a bid for such a complicated Olympic Games.
The bid proposal currently involves four First Nations – Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Lil’wat – and two cities, Vancouver and Whistler, as formal partners, with two other cities, Sun Peaks and Richmond, and four Kamloops-area First Nations as partners. The Canadian Olympic Committee is co-ordinating the proposal and its president Tricia Smith said it will take the lead on drafting an agreement.
The committee, working with all those parties, has estimated the Games would cost $4-billion. That’s less than the 2010 Games’ $7-billion bill because it says a lot of what was built for the previous Games can be used again.
The last major Canadian city to seriously consider playing host to the Olympics was Calgary, which previously was the host for the Winter Olympics in 1988 and spent millions exploring a potential bid for 2026. A plebiscite four years ago failed after 56 per cent of ballots cast rejected the idea.
In Vancouver, the council also faced Indigenous leaders at the Tuesday meeting who started by saying how disappointed they were with the negative tone of the report, which came as a surprise to them when it was released only a couple of days ago.
“I’m a little bit upset with some of the remarks that were made,” said Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow, who attended the meeting wearing a full headdress and traditional blanket. “We asked the city to get into the canoe with this. To say we’re not going to have enough time – it’s like a punch in the gut.”
But at the end of the four-hour discussion that involved a lot of references to canoes and the need to paddle together, most agreed that the discussion, though tough, had been productive.
“We are stronger now by persevering through the challenges today. I feel grounded and I feel the gratitude and unity for our team,” said Squamish Councillor Wilson Williams.
Ms. Hardwick and Councillor Jean Swanson voted against the move to have staff continue with negotiations, though for very different reasons.
Ms. Hardwick said she felt that council owed it to voters to ask their opinion first and argued that an effort at reconciliation shouldn’t mean council skips out on its responsibilities to those voters.
Ms. Swanson said much as she wanted to support the Indigenous leaders, that she would rather see money spent directly on housing or other services for Indigenous people.
But Councillor Melissa De Genova said it would be disrespectful to First Nations for the city to bail out of the bid effort partway through.
And Chief Sparrow said that issues such as housing, an Indigenous women’s healing centre and other needed services for Indigenous people will be on the table during Games negotiations.
A final bid proposal has to go to the International Olympics Committee by January, so a newly elected Vancouver council will need to decide by late 2022 whether it wants to commit to a formal legal agreement.
There is a lot still up in the air, since no one from the federal government has made any kind of public statement yet on what kind of support it might offer for the Games.
The province sent a letter out in late June saying it would not make any decisions about support until a long list of questions were answered about who pays for what, who will provide guarantees if there’s a huge security cost overrun or pandemic-type disaster, and what the financial commitments are from all the other parties.
Mayor Kennedy Stewart said the federal and provincial governments will need to get on board quickly to make the bid work.
The federal government is, at the moment, “in the canoe but not paddling,” he said.
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