It's interesting, isn't it? Whenever some group wants to pry money from the government, it always claims that the amount that will come in far outweighs what will go out.
Every dollar spent on funding arts organizations, we're told, brings in several dollars in tourism revenue and taxable economic growth. The millions it will cost to build that new sports stadium will produce many millions more for the local economy. That international athletic event will unleash a flood of benefits that makes the up-front investment well worthwhile. How many times have we heard Olympics promoters claim that the enormous bill for the Games will be nothing next to the gargantuan benefits for the host city and country?
By this dubious logic, any expenditure can be justified. No amount is too high. If $1-billion in, say, infrastructure spending really yields $10-billion in gains, why not spend $10-billion and get $100-billion?
So when the backers of Expo 2025 argue that the benefits from the event would more than exceed the costs, it is only prudent to raise a skeptical eyebrow.
At a press conference in front of City Hall on Tuesday, promoters said that holding the international exposition in Toronto would add billions to the national gross domestic product and government tax revenues, "far outstripping the cost." In an interview the same morning on CBC Radio's Metro Morning, Kristyn Wong-Tam, a city councillor who is leading the drive to host the fair, said Expo "actually delivers a lot more benefits than we put in."
Really? The cost would be in the billions, when you add the cost of renovating the Port Lands, the old industrial district on the eastern flank of Toronto Harbour where Expo 2025 would be held.
The benefits? A promotional video called A World to Inspire talks about the geyser of good things that would come from the event: more transit, more housing, more tourism, a redeveloped Port Lands. It shows speakers from a rainbow of backgrounds talking up how the fair would showcase Toronto's virtues, from "inclusiveness, ingenuity and resourcefulness" to "humanity, diversity and acceptance."
Expos are "large-scale public exhibitions focused around a central theme that allow countries to come together in the same physical space and share ideas," the promoters explain on their website. The theme of the latest, Milan 2015, was Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.
An Expo "unites people, instills pride and is a major catalyst for job creation and economic growth," the website says.
In fact, it is awfully hard to say whether Expo 2025 would be a net gain for Toronto. It depends on how popular the fair would turn out to be, and that's unknowable. Everyone remembers Expo 67, but what about Shanghai 2010 (Better City, Better Life)?
A report from City of Toronto staff says that while the backers claim that all sorts of benefits would flow from Expo 2025, "there are a number of significant challenges and risks related to staging an event of this scale and complexity in the Port Lands in 2025 that outweigh these advantages."
For one thing, the organizers would have to round up $6-billion or $7-billion from three levels of government to pay for various big projects aimed at making the Port Lands ready for Expo. "This funding is largely not yet committed," the report says.
Even if it were, it says, it is "highly improbable" that the builders could complete all those projects, from flood protection to new transit lines, in time for the fair's opening.
Nonsense, the Expo group says. The supporters seem to think that those who raise objections to their grand dream are nothing more than cheese-paring quibblers who don't understand an obvious truth: Whatever the size of the bill, the project will bring in more than it costs.
When taxpayers hear that old line, they should hold tight to their wallets.