With the clock running out, Mayor Rob Ford is asking the Prime Minister for a face-to-face meeting to appeal for Toronto's chance to host the World Expo.
Canada is set to withdraw from the Bureau International des Expositions, the governing body that oversees the selection of host countries for the Expo, by the end of this year. Citing cost concerns, the federal government gave its one-year notice to withdraw from the BIE last December – six months after city council voted 30-4 to produce a feasibility report to assess Toronto's ability to bid for the Expo in 2025. Withdrawal from the BIE would essentially put the kibosh on Toronto's chances of hosting the world fair.
After appealing to a number of cabinet ministers last year, Mr. Ford is now going straight to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, with whom he has a close relationship, to renew Canada's BIE membership.
"We respectfully ask that your government suspend Canada's request to withdraw from the BIE until such time as the City of Toronto conducts the needed due diligence, so that all levels of government may review the results on an informed basis," the mayor said in a letter to Mr. Harper dated Aug. 13.
Proponents of the Expo say the six-month nation-to-nation exhibit, held every five years from May to October, is important for establishing new trade connections, and forces all levels of government to commit to improving infrastructure such as roads and transit.
In his letter, Mr. Ford cites Montreal and Vancouver as examples of cities that benefited when they hosted the event in 1967 and 1986, respectively, because they created jobs, boosted tourism and resulted in improved infrastructure.
"Expo remains the largest global event that a nation and a city can host, and would attract a potential 40 million visitors to the site for a family-friendly event lasting six months, and having a potential $13-billion economic impact," he says in the letter.
The BIE membership, which costs about $25,000 annually, is a small and affordable fee, said Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who has been spearheading efforts to put forward an Expo bid. The event is a major economic catalyst that will result in trade links and "multimillion-dollar contracts to build pavilions," Ms. Wong-Tam said.
City staff will present their feasibility report to council's economic development committee on Oct. 24. It will then go to council on Nov. 13.
"We're mindful that [Mr. Harper] is saying no very quickly and we think it's a premature decision," Ms. Wong-Tam said. "There is not a single economic catalyst that's going to be as large and transformative as hosting the world's fair."
Dimitri Kerkentzes, BIE's chief of staff, said he was surprised when he heard of Canada's notice to withdraw because Canada has "always been a very active member, not only in the BIE, but also in Expos."
The membership fee may not be the only factor affecting the federal government's decision. Another reason addressed in the mayor's letter is the cost of providing security. Ottawa was taken aback when security costs at Vancouver's 2010 Winter Olympics ballooned to nearly $1-billion – five times the initial bid estimate. But Ms. Wong-Tam said security costs associated with an Expo are much lower than what would be spent at the Olympics. As well, the government is questioning the relevance of the Expo in an age when information can easily be shared online.
A spokesman for Mr. Harper said the Prime Minister's Office had not yet received Mr. Ford's letter.
Mike Storeshaw, a spokesman for Canadian Heritage Minister Shelly Glover, said in an e-mail that cancellation of the BIE membership is aimed at reaching fiscal balance.
"As Canada is not currently planning participation in international expositions, ongoing membership in the Bureau of International Expositions is not an effective use of government resources," Mr. Storeshaw wrote. "Our government remains committed to promoting trade, business, cultural and tourism opportunities in new, innovative, efficient and cost-effective ways."
Some info about the World Expo:
Number of visitors to the most recent six-month World Expo in Shanghai in 2010: 73 million, or about 400,000 visitors a day.
Number of participating governments and organizations: 246
Reported cost of hosting the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai: $55-billion
Approximate cost of preparing a bid: $7-million
From 2006 data compiled for Toronto's failed bid attempt for World Expo 2015:
Jobs expected to be created: 143,000, or about 17,000 jobs a year over eight years
Revenue to be generated for the Federal Treasury by hosting the World Expo: $2.7-billion
Revenue to be generated for provincial governments: $2-billion
Revenue to be generated for Ontario municipalities: $600-million
Total revenue expected: $5.3-billion
Number of member countries in the Bureau International des Expositions: 167, including Canada
Number of countries to have joined the BIE in the past 10 years: about 80
2013 cost of BIE membership to Canada: $23,461
Projected increased cost of Canada's BIE membership in 2018: $70,385