As B.C. puts forward the first Indigenous-led Olympic bid for the 2030 Games, participants hope Canada’s desire to make real and visible moves for reconciliation will motivate all levels of government to financially support the bid.
“Reconciliation is probably at its peak right now. We’re at the early onset right now. The city of Vancouver and Whistler see that and they are walking with us,” said Squamish Councillor Wilson Williams.
“We’re on a healthy path. We are building relationships. We build trust; share a meal; get to know each other.”
The bid is being led by the Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Lil’wat First Nations, whose territory falls within or near the Vancouver area, and is the only bid being supported by the Canadian Olympic Committee.
Committee president Tricia Smith emphasized that Canada’s 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission made a number of recommendations that specifically applied to the sports sector, which she believes may shape the way the parties approach negotiations over costs.
“This process we’re following is more collaboration – it’s not always a yes-or-no decision,” she said. “This is an opportunity to do something very different with respect to reconciliation and its calls to action.”
The bid is currently in the exploration stage: the four nations have all signed a memorandum of understanding with the cities of Vancouver and Whistler.
Richmond, Sun Peaks and three other Kamloops-area First Nations – the Neskonlith, Adams Lake and Little Shuswap Lake nations – were also listed as potential partners in a news conference last week that outlined likely venues for the Games.
Observers say the high number of participants and the still-to-be-finalized role of the Indigenous nations means that crucial talks about who will pay for what will be far more complicated than any previous Canadian Olympic bids.
Mr. Williams said nations are holding internal discussions about what their financial contributions might be.
“We’re at an engagement phase and we’ll have the dialogue about whether it is economically feasible for our nations to move forward. Our leadership base will be collaborating on the economics and looking at each nation’s input.”
“There are more stakeholders. More people have to sign off,” says University of British Columbia economics professor James Brander, who is a close observer of the Olympic Games’ business aspects. “And the role of the Indigenous community is the biggest issue. It says they will have an ‘important role,’ but it’s not clear exactly what that means.”
Prof. Brander added that it is not clear yet on which participants, if any, will have veto power over decisions about the bid.
There is also no specific financial information yet on the costs of the bid’s many components, which are expected to include the Sun Peaks ski facilities; a revamped Hastings Park in Vancouver; the reuse of the Richmond speed-skating rink built for the 2010 Games; and previous sites identified in Vancouver and Whistler. That information is supposed to be coming in a few weeks.
However, the 2010 Olympics were determined to have cost the province $925-million out of the total $7-billion cost. A City of Vancouver report determined the city spent $554-million, all but $30-million of it on capital costs for venues like the Hillcrest community centre, where curling events were held.
The cost of simply putting a bid together has been reduced because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has changed the bid process. Ms. Smith said she expected the bid to cost $5-million and $6-million.
No one thinks that cities, the province or the federal government will simply be presented with a list of venues and requests to pay the bill. There will be tricky negotiations, as politicians aim to show co-operation with Indigenous groups as part of the country’s efforts at reconciliation while demonstrating financial good sense.
Prof. Brander said “it’s certainly a possibility” that local councils might find it hard to say no to requests. But, he noted, mayors and councillors will also have to consider whether the public will support an Olympics bid after people have been battered by COVID-19, are fearful of an impending recession and are more distrustful of government in general.
Any bid would have to include provision for one or more athlete’s villages, which could be possible on the Jericho or Heather Lands currently being prepared for development in Vancouver by the Musqueam-Squamish-Tsleil-Wauthuth development corporation. A similar development by the Burrard Bridge, the Squamish Senakw project, is off the table because it will already be largely built out and occupied by 2030.
But Mr. Williams, along with others, have stressed that the costs will be lower than in 2010 because a lot of infrastructure is already in place, including many of the planned venues and the Sea-to-Sky highway between Vancouver and Whistler.
Ms. Smith also said that the IOC doesn’t want bids from cities or regions that require spending billions on new facilities, which will mean less stress in discussions about paying costs.
“They do not want you to build something you don’t need in the community already.”
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