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Toronto can’t afford cost of bidding or hosting Olympics, councillors say

A large Toronto sign is set up as part of Panamania Live @ Nathan Phillips Square on July 9 2015. Mayor John Tory is weighing his options over the idea of an Olympic bid in wake of the Pan Am Games.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

With the afterglow of the Pan Am Games having long since faded and Toronto Mayor John Tory still weighing his options over the idea of an Olympic bid, city council appears to be cooling on the idea of hosting the Games.

Officially, Mr. Tory says he's still consulting councillors and community groups ahead of the Sept. 15 deadline for Toronto to submit a letter of interest. But several members of council – including the city's budget chief – voiced caution about the idea Monday, saying Toronto can't afford the cost of bidding or hosting the Games.

"I'm very opposed to the idea of going for the Olympics," said Councillor John Campbell, who said many of his colleagues on council feel the same. He pointed to Montreal, which spent decades paying off a $1.5-billion debt from hosting the 1976 Games, and said the Games would be an "albatross" for Toronto for years following the event.

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"Olympics have proven themselves in the past to be losing financial endeavours."

The city's budget chief Gary Crawford, too, said that although he'd "love to see the Olympics in North America," that at this point, he wouldn't be able to justify spending the estimated $50-million to $60-million cost of a bid.

"When we're looking at the costs to the city, as I said, I'm very cautiously holding back at this point on supporting it," he said.

Even if Toronto went ahead with a bid, Mr. Crawford said the city likely wouldn't be able to match the dollars spent by competitors like Los Angeles – which is on the verge of approving a deal to become the U.S. candidate for the 2024 Games – and the $4-billion that city has already vowed to spend to win the Games.

"Right now, that ship is sailing," Councillor James Pasternak said, echoing Mr. Crawford's caution over Los Angeles. Mr. Pasternak – who floated the idea on Monday of Toronto hosting a "bi-national" Games with a U.S. border city like Buffalo – said the city also faces stiff competition from others who have declared an interest, like Paris.

Still, Curt Harnett, Canada's chef de mission for the recent Pan Am Games, said he's heard there's "a lot of excitement" at city hall about a potential Olympic bid. With the Pan Am Games, he said, "it was obvious that the city was hungry for it and hungry for what it brought and that sense of pride," he said. "Toronto is a great host, and we've got to look at what's next."

For months now, Mr. Tory has kept his cards close to his chest, saying a final decision won't likely come until closer to Sept. 15 – the deadline to submit a letter to the International Olympic Committee indicating interest. That letter would set off an official bid process, leading up to the announcement of a host city in summer, 2017.

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A statement from the mayor's office Monday said Mr. Tory is still analyzing the results of the Pan Am Games, as well as consulting with council, community groups, and other levels of government to hear their thoughts.

And according to sources, the mayor isn't just playing coy. "He really wants to do his homework," said a source with knowledge of the mayor's deliberations.

But even as the mayor reserves his decision, others on council have begun campaigning against him making one at all.

In a letter dated Aug. 19 and circulated to all 45 members of council, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam urges Mr. Tory against making any kind of a decision on his own.

"For the record, my preference is for you to not submit a letter of interest for an Olympics 2024 bid until all necessary due diligence has been completed," she wrote, asking the mayor to appoint a "voluntary task force" to investigate the implications first.

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