Vancouver City Council keeps door open for potential regional 2030 Olympics bid

Mar 31 2021, 5:25 pm

More than a year after the idea of Vancouver bidding for the 2030 Olympic Winter Games was first floated by former VANOC CEO John Furlong, Vancouver City Council has decided to retain its “seat at the table” for wider regional discussions on any possible bid.

Ahead of today’s public meeting reviewing the idea of a bid, city council was not expected to make any decision, but a motion submitted by COPE councillor Jean Swanson during the deliberations sought to direct city staff to stop all work on bringing the Olympics to Vancouver.

Swanson’s motion was highly criticized by the majority of council, and ultimately it was entirely scrapped and replaced by Green Party councillor Pete Fry’s amendments directing staff to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of Vancouver’s hosting of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, specifically on the impacts to housing, affordability, and environment. But this analysis work would only be conducted if there is any future consideration of a 2030 bid.

City council voted 8-3 in support of Fry’s amended motion, with Swanson, OneCity councillor Christine Boyle, and NPA councillor Colleen Hardwick in opposition.

“We’re not in a bubble here, we’re being watched by the world on this. I am distressed that this has come forward the way it has,” said Mayor Kennedy Stewart, voicing his displeasure of Swanson’s original motion.

“This debate is uninformed… We can’t make the Olympics happen, but we can certainly kill them, right? Maybe that’s what some councillors want, but I don’t think that respects the potential partners that we’re already speaking with.”

The Mayor said he had not made a personal decision on whether he supports a potential bid, but he was critical of the lack of a planned approach for discussion for “something this big that has the potential of impacting the economy of British Columbia and Canada.” He suggested it would be terrible form for the Mayors’ Office to suddenly discontinue its discussions with First Nations, stakeholders, and potential partners, which was a previous direction of city council.

“Vote how you like, but I’ll continue the work,” said Stewart.

Both Swanson and Green Party councillor Adriane Carr were known to be staunch opponents of the 2010 Games, but Carr says she has a different position for a potential 2030 bid given that the bidding and hosting process has been completely overhauled.

In the city staff report presented to city council today, it was noted that the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) “New Norm” initiatives beginning in 2018 reduces costs for cities and regions during the bidding process, providing them with greater support to develop events concepts so that the Games are in alignment with the long-term plans of the city and region.

There is no longer any traditional competitive submission and presentation, as prospective hosts instead engage with continuous dialogue with the IOC.

Additionally, the IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020 principles now encourage prospective hosts to create the best plan that has sustainability as the driving principle, such as reusing existing facilities as much as possible, wherever they are located. As a result, the idea of bidding for the Games is a regional discussion, instead of debate solely for just one city.

This was the process that led to the IOC’s recent announcement that it had identified Brisbane as the “preferred host” of the 2030 Olympic Summer Games, and that it would begin formal negotiations with Australian authorities. A formal decision on Brisbane could come as soon as before the Tokyo Summer Games this summer.

Furthermore, City of Vancouver staff noted that regional discussions on 2030 would be led by the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), but they are currently not prepared to engage in formal talks as they are currently preoccupied with the challenges of COVID-19 — the safe preparation of Canadian athletes for the Tokyo Games and the Beijing Winter Games in February 2022.

City staff emphasized it was too early for city council to establish any position on a potential bid as no work had yet been done on formal consultation and a potential event concept.

“There may be a point of time when the opportunity comes up because the COC reaches out to us on a regional basis, at which point I’d like the opportunity to think through the pros and cons,” said Carr, who suggested that there could be lower construction costs for significant affordable housing from the opportunity of building a 2030 Olympic Village for athletes and officials. There could also be an opportunity to engage with the Host First Nations of the 2010 Games again.

“There are so many unknowns at this point that to blanket say ‘No’… would limit any options that council has to re-evaluate in a fresh way under different circumstances and a different bidding process than what we’ve experienced in the past. I see the potential for problems and I see the potential for some really good community building and just really good legacy outcomes. I don’t want to close the door to that.”

NPA councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung added that there was a possibility for major First Nations-led and owned residential developments in the city to be used as an Olympic Village, with the significant legacy of increasing the affordability of these units. This includes their redevelopments of the Heather Lands on the Cambie Corridor, and the Jericho Lands in West Point Grey.

Kirby-Yung also took aim at some of Swanson’s comments that opposed the increased tourism from the Olympics, asserting that with this line of reasoning, then theoretically Vancouver is not open for business for any events, including its hosting of competitive ice skating events, the annual World Rugby Sevens tournament, and international meetings and conferences.

“All of which support our tourism industry and the economic impact, it’s one of the biggest employers we have in the entire province,” said Kirby-Yung.

“It’s really difficult for me to reconcile needing to support our hotel workers but basically wanting to shut down all of the reasons that bring people into the city to stay in our hotels. It’s a really shameful conversation for this council to have because travel is a fundamental freedom. With COVID and the lockdowns, people are fundamentally missing that opportunity. When people travel, it provides the opportunity to build cross-cultural engagement and understanding.”

She then gave weight to the importance of providing as much support as possible to the battered tourism and hospitality sector.

“Our tourism and hospitality industry is on their knees. It’s so down and out,” said Kirby-Yung. “There is no light in the horizon for this industry, and it’s going to take years for it to comeback. We can’t shut the door on them.”

NPA councillor Melissa DeGenova added: “I do want to send a signal that we are considering every opportunity, and we will leave no stone unturned when it comes to considering economic recovery.”

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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