Knives out for councillor who warns of Games cost

City councillor Doug Graham is all for the 2012 Arctic Winter Games, but Whitehorse needs a new funding arrangement before it jumps into the…

City councillor Doug Graham is all for the 2012 Arctic Winter Games, but Whitehorse needs a new funding arrangement before it jumps into the endeavour.

Graham was responding to critics who said he opposed the city hosting the Games.

“I’ve been accused of questioning the value of the Arctic Winter Games to the city and our citizens — and nothing could be farther from the truth,” said Graham during Monday night’s council meeting.

The real concern was how his detractors seemed wholly unwilling to consider a different approach, he said.

At last week’s council meeting, Graham argued the cash-strapped city may not have the $500,000 necessary to stage a sixth Arctic Winter Games.

Condemnation quickly flew at Graham from all sides, including numerous phone calls and a full-page ad run in both the Yukon News and the Whitehorse Star by Arctic Winter Games International Committee president Gerry Thick, a former city councillor.

“I am extremely disappointed that some individuals from my hometown (Whitehorse) are questioning the value of the Arctic Winter Games to the city and our citizens,” wrote Thick in the 1,800-word ad.

Other councillors were even ready to bring out the daggers for Graham on Monday.

“I don’t want to be on a council that shoots down the Arctic Winter Games — I want to leave a legacy, but that’s not the one I want to leave,” said councillor Dave Austin.

“I never argued to ‘shoot down’ the Games,” said Graham, before expressing concern at the “overreaction” he had been subjected to in the previous week.

“That kind of reaction just astounds me, and I’m really concerned about people’s apparent refusal to look at anything in the way of new concepts or a new way of doing things,” said Graham.

“Especially when you bring a person’s family into it, I didn’t really appreciate that.”

“We all know that you utilize the recreation facilities in the city on a regular basis; most of which wereare provided to you as a result of hosting events such as the Arctic Winter Games!” wrote Thick.

“You grew up here and raised your family here, enjoyed the great facilities we have, and it’s time to give something back!”

Detractors are simply trying to scare council into approving an outdated plan, rather than considering new options, said Graham.

City resources are stretched to the limit, and strong Yukon government support is needed to avoid crushing deficits or significant tax increases, said Graham.

Last year, even with a 7.5 per cent tax increase, the city ran a deficit that had to be covered through municipal reserves.

Community Services Minister Archie Lang expressed support for the 2012 Games bid, but the missive lacked any specific funding support.

“Had YTG not picked up the deficit for the Canada Winter Games, the tax increases would have been higher and we would still be paying for the Games — and that’s why I’m concerned for taxpayers,” said Graham.

Ever since the Games were last hosted in Canada — in 2004 at Wood Buffalo, Alberta — the cost has increased by almost $2 million noted councillor Florence Roberts.

The 2000 Arctic Winter Games cost Whitehorse $400,000 and the Yukon government chipped in another $750,000.

Based on an estimated $500,000 city contribution for the 2012 games, municipal taxes would have to be raised 2.5 per cent, unless costs were cut in other areas, said Robert Fendrick, the city’s administrative services director.

Whitehorse already has a $23,000 standing fund left over from the 2000 Games.

Other expenses could include increased snow clearing — as well as lost income at the Canada Games Centre.

The games would mean a three- to four-week disruption of services at the Canada Games Centre.

“The residents of the city would be losing some of their services over that period,” said Roberts.

“The usage of the Canada Games Centre has blossomed now, we’ve finally got people used to using it, and then we’re going to shut it down,” she said.

Council voted unanimously to establish a committee to prepare the 2012 bid.

Any final bid proposal will need council’s nod before being submitted to the Arctic Winter Games.

Contact Tristin Hopper at tristinh@yukon-news.com