2023 Canada Winter Games gets a $50.3 million price tag

2023 Canada Winter Games gets a $50.3 million price tag
The opening ceremonies of the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George, B.C.Photo: Ian Heslop.

A new report states that Yellowknife could feasibly host the 2023 Canada Winter Games (CWG), but whether or not it should is another question.

Last week, the CWG Working Committee, a mix of municipal and territorial government staff as well as members of the business community, released a report highlighting the pros and cons of hosting the multisport games.

One of the glaring cons was a lack of support from the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce.

“There is no confusion – our membership does not want Yellowknife to host the 2023 Canada Winter Games,” said Deneen Everett, executive director. “Wishful thinking simply does not resonate with business owners who are struggling to keep the lights on.”

With recent layoffs in the mining industry and slow growth in other parts of the territory, the Chamber said it and its members could not justify the cost of the event, estimated to be about $50.3 million, including $36.3 million in operational expenses and $14 million in capital.

“We do what the business community tells us, and what we’re hearing from the business community is that it’s just not worth the risk,” Everett said. “Of course we all hope that the economy picks up in the next, ideally, the shortest timeframe possible, but it is a risk, there’s no guarantees.”

The report outlines several areas where work would need to be done to make Yellowknife a viable option for the Games.

The city does not have the capacity to house all of the incoming athletes and their supporters and volunteers – about 4,500 spaces are needed. Those working on the report also noted that the time of year when the games would take place – sometime in March – would be during peak aurora tourism season and when the winter roads allow access to the mines, increasing the need for accommodations even further. The gap is estimated to be about 670 to 780 rooms.

“The Canada Winter Games has a quality threshold of three-star for all accommodation and I asked whether or not the gross numbers that were in the report had considered that threshold and it hadn’t,” said Mike Bradshaw, executive director for the NWT Chamber of Commerce. “That’s just a quantitative figure and a bunch of those rooms aren’t going to meet the national standard. So, who are we kidding? We don’t have the capacity, we don’t have the volunteers, the economy is struggling and they still want to pull $600,000 out of Northern sponsors? I don’t know how it’s going to happen.”

Additionally, to host all of the events, a pool and a venue for alpine events will need to be installed, with major upgrades – an estimated $957,000 worth – needed at the Ski Club.

So close, and yet so far

Despite the uphill battle facing them, some Yellowknifers are holding true to the adage, “Where there’s a will there’s a way.”

“As a city councillor for a couple terms … I’ve been fairly informed on it and was supportive of the community committee being put together and doing the work that they did and I’m very happy that they assembled the report,” said MLA and former city councillor Cory Vanthuyne. “They now suggest, as I anticipated all along, the city has the capacity required to host these games.”

The committee found that Yellowknife’s venues can accommodate the required athletes comfort care facilities and services including food services, medical polyclinic, mission centre, team, mission and staff transportation and lounges.

As well, the Yellowknife Airport has capacity to meet the event’s standard.

The biggest obstacle that remains is funding.

“There’s no silver bullet or magic wand for this, you do have to pull from a number of different resources and be creative,” Vanthuyne said, nodding to hotel and airport levies described in the report. “I’d like to see more work being done on that, so we can see the numbers.”

At the end of the day, it will be the city’s priorities that determine whether or not Yellowknife gets the games.

“Our business committee would prefer if the city would get focused on homelessness and chronic addictions. We have issues here, not just in Yellowknife but in the NWT and somebody’s got to come to grips with them,” Bradshaw said. “That may sound unusual coming from the business sector but we live with the issues every day and that’s another reason why it could turn into a total embarrassment if we host the games.”

Vanthuyne is more optimistic.

“If we don’t take advantage of this particular opportunity it’s not like it’s just going to be there another couple of years down the road.”

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