Building facilities is the bane of any major international sports competition: Costs only go one direction – up. And while no construction work has begun for the 2015 Pan American Games, to be hosted in the Greater Toronto Area, some of Toronto's recent choices, and Hamilton's inability to choose, are already creating a worrying trend.
The problems have little to do with a lack of need for the facilities, or lack of a desire to host the Games. Greater Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe, Canada's largest region, has seen a cultural renaissance, with Toronto alone getting a new opera house and major upgrades to its largest museum and art gallery. By contrast, its amateur athletics facilities are substandard.
The executive committee of Toronto City Council has now promised to pay an extra $21.3-million to pay for cost overruns related to venue construction. Viewed one way, this may be a prudent move: a return to economic good times means higher demand for construction services and materials. In the context of the city's long-term capital plan, it is a small increase. Moreover, the new money means the province of Ontario will provide a further financial backstop.
But do any of these facts reassure? Toronto has yet to take any tough decisions in its initial budgeting exercise for 2011, meaning more cuts will have to be deferred. Of all three levels of government, Ontario's fiscal situation is perhaps the most dire. And if there is only one taxpayer, as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is fond of saying, we should not rejoice when costs multiply.
The region has been planning its Games bid for years, but Hamilton, a major partner, has yet to even decide on a location for the soccer competition it will host. It has turned down five sites for a new stadium, and the existing Ivor Wynne Stadium may now be refurbished instead. It is important for Hamilton to get the it right – the venue will be the future home for CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats – but the organizing committee is right to set a Feb. 1 deadline for a decision from that city.
With the province and the federal government each already committing $500-million for the Games, this is an issue of importance to all Canadians. Mr. Ford has now pledged not to pay any more "surprise" bills related to the Games. It is a welcome commitment, and one to which he should be held to account.