Disappointment is the key word being used in reaction to Nov. 14’s announcement that the 2027 Canada Winter Games bid will not go ahead.
The territory decided to pull out of the bid over federal funding. It had asked Ottawa to commit approximately $160 million for the Games. The federal government responded with an offer of $16.75 million, with $3 million for capital costs. Much of the funding was needed for new infrastructure like additional ice surfaces and the athlete’s village.
The announcement is raising questions and theories with politicians about the future of federal funding for projects in the territory.
“I think this is a … foreshadowing of the future of funding projects,” Mayor Laura Cabott said in an interview following Whitehorse city council’s Nov. 14 meeting.
Cabott had released a statement also expressing disappointment, but understanding in the territory’s decision.
“While the Games would have offered an opportunity to showcase our city on a national stage, hosting multi-sport games requires substantial investment,” she said.
“Without partner funding, the legacy investments which are integral to a meaningful bid would not have been possible.”
Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn said federal funding was not enough for the territory and the City of Whitehorse to co-host the Games as planned.
As outlined in the bid to host, which was submitted to the Canada Games Council earlier this year, the event would cost approximately $185 million, including new buildings such as new ice surfaces at Takhini Arena, an athlete’s village at Yukon University which would be converted to student housing following the Games, and other upgrades to sporting facilities throughout the city.
For the city, it will mean moving forward with upgrades to the aging Takhini Arena rather than construction of the new ice surfaces for the Games.
Funding for those upgrades was included in the city’s proposed capital budget for 2023 and provisional budget to 2026, released at the Nov. 14 meeting.
Had the Games proceeded, plans would have shifted to the construction of a new facility, but the city had been planning for upgrades already.
“So we’re back to that with the news that we received from the Yukon government,” Cabott said.
“That is an old building, but it’s still got a few years in it and we’re going to have to work with that. I think we’re moving into a period of time of austerity and being careful with what we’re spending our money on.”
The city’s provisional budget outlines $4 million for upgrades along with another $175,000 in furnace work to the arena in 2024, though it is subject to external funding sources, which the city typically receives through other levels of government.
The decision will also mean plans for student housing at Yukon University will not go ahead, though Cabott said the city will continue working with other governments, including First Nations and the territory, on housing.
“We need it; no question,” she said.
Both the Yukon Party and NDP opposition leaders highlighted worries over projects in the territory that are depending on federal funds.
Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon pointed out the amount is much less than the federal government put towards the 2007 Canada Winter Games, the only time the Games have been hosted North of 60.
“It’s a federal government that has shown they’re not willing to invest in the North,” Dixon said.
“This is just the most recent example of that. It also raises concerns about both future budgets as well, like I said, whether it’s at least [the] $60-million funding gap in Atlin hydro, the hundreds of millions that we require for Moon Lake, the potentially tens of millions more needed for the Nisutlin Bay Bridge, or the $35 million needed for the Dawson rec center. These are all projects that are big capital from the [territorial] government to the federal government. And those are all in question now.”
White questioned what it means for projects where it was anticipated the federal government would contribute upwards of 75 per cent of the cost.
“That’s really what’s unclear at this point,” she said.
Mostyn, however, expressed confidence in federal infrastructure funding making its way to the territory, highlighting “immense amounts of infrastructure money” over the last six years and noting the federal government has recently signaled plans for future infrastructure dollars to focus on public transit, sewer water, climate change and more.
Mostyn, who was informed of the federal government’s decision last week, also emphasized his disappointment and the difficult decision that came upon learning the federal government would not fund the territory’s full request for the Games.
“It was a hard decision for us not to proceed with the Games,” he said.
“I have no doubt that it was a very hard decision for the federal government not to be able to fund this for us.”
The loss of the Games is also being felt across the sport community.
As Sport Yukon executive director Tracey Bilsky said in a statement, sport organizations throughout the territory are still feeling the loss of the 2020 Arctic Winter Games that had been scheduled for Whitehorse but were ultimately cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The 2027 Games would have given the sport organizations a boost to their facilities, the building of official and volunteer capacity, while motivating the territory’s athletes and sport governing bodies,” she said.
“Although the news is disappointing, we respect the decision of the Yukon government. The sport community is a resilient one, and will continue to inspire and grow to benefit the present and future.”
For the Canada Games Council, the cancellation means finding a new host for the 2027 Games. In a statement, the council said it will work through an expedited bid process to ensure a new community is ready to host the Games.
The territory had been next on the host rotation for the event after St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, which will host in 2025.
“We are extremely disappointed to learn the joint Yukon and City of Whitehorse bid for the Games will not proceed,” Canada Games president and CEO Kelly-Ann Paul said.
“Hosting the Canada Games has demonstrated proven economic, community-building, and sport benefits, Games after Games. The investment in any Canada Games has regularly delivered an economic impact of greater than $100 million, leaves significant legacies in sport facilities for future generations, and provides the opportunity for youth to shine in their athletic pursuits as the nation unites through the power of sport.”
In a Nov. 15 interview, Paul said that while the Canada Games Council had seen the federal funding request as a risk in the bid, they had not seen it as something that could result in the bid being cancelled. It was anticipated a Plan B option from the territory and city may have been considered if the federal funding wasn’t approved.
“We certainly didn’t forsee this,” she said, adding to her knowledge a bid hasn’t been withdrawn this late in the process.
Just last month Canada Games officials were in Whitehorse for a site visit while they assessed the bid.
“We’re so disappointed,” Paul said.
One of her first Canada Winter Games experiences working with the organization was during the 2007 Games in Whitehorse, an experience that has had a major impact on many athletes and one that continues to have a legacy in Whitehorse, she said.
Officials, she said, are saddened that many of the nation’s athletes won’t get to experience the Yukon in 2027.
The situation leaves the Canada Games Council searching for a host community and beginning conversations with the provinces and territories on that. While Quebec and then the Northwest Territories are next on the rotation list of potential host jurisdictions following the Yukon, Paul said the council has to look at all potential options to deal with the 2027 Games, given the extremely tight timelines.
Paul is hopeful a new host will be found as soon as possible, ideally by March 31, 2023.
– With files from Dana Hatherly
Contact Stephanie Waddell at email@example.com