Let the games begin

Halifax starts its bid for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Yolande Vasara jumps into the ring.

It’s summer 2014, and sports enthusiasts, tourists, and 5,000 international athletes have descended upon Halifax. The sun glints off several shiny new sporting venues, and the new transportation upgrades are a success.

Doubtless this is what city staff are daydreaming about as they gear up to compete against Ottawa, York Region, Hamilton and Calgary for the domestic portion of the bid to host the Commonwealth Games.

But the bid specifics are shrouded in mystery. “We’re still in the competition stage,” says John O’Brien, manager of corporate communications for HRM. “You have to be careful of what you give away, because any leaked information could incite other cities to change their tactics.”

When contacted earlier this week, Monica Kennedy from Trade Centre Ltd., (the organization that manages Events Halifax), was unable to divulge any concrete information about the bid itself, and said that “corporate sponsors have not been officially announced yet.”

That doesn’t mean the party is a secret. After a late-morning bid update, a public rally—with games, prizes and food—heats up today, October 27, at noon in Grand Parade. A parade of athletes, stakeholders, fire services and First Nations groups to wind its way along Duke and Barrington. The rally will include speeches by mayor Peter Kelly and premier John Hamm.

“This bid is not only about Halifax,” says O’Brien, “but is something that will benefit the entire Atlantic region.” The grand finale is a 2014 Halifax cheer, to be unveiled at the rally to pump up the crowd to “get behind the bid.”

Along with merriment, you’ll hear assertions that bringing a world-class athletic event such as this to Halifax will boost tourism, bolster the housing market, create jobs and generally revitalize our little slice of paradise.

“We’re trying to be as innovative as possible, and also as inclusive as possible,” says O’Brien.

There are those who are skeptical of the supposed economic, social and cultural benefits. Audits of the impacts of the 2002 Commonwealth Games on Manchester are mixed, with critics citing misallocation of funds that should have been spent on more relevant, long-term community projects. And controversy still rages in Vancouver over the preparations for the 2010 Winter Games: boon or bane?

Those in the bane-camp in Vancouver already point to cost overruns and a glaring lack of public accountability, as well as botched transportation projects. Many argue that the economic opportunities will be a reality for real estate developers, but not so for those dependent on affordable housing. “Bread not Circuses” a coalition counter to the Toronto bid for the 2008 Olympics contended the games would sustain a negative impact on the environment as well as on the poor. At this point, the Halifax bid is getting good feedback.

“I wouldn’t think the costs should be that out of line from when we competed for 2010,” says O’Brien. “The feds put up 50 percent of the costs right off the bat, and of course we have to look to the province for funding, but the legacy is one of the most important things. We don’t have any world-class sports training facilities which means that elite athletes have to leave the province and go to Vancouver or Toronto to train. This is not just about the 10 days of the games.”

Corey Toews, regional planning coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre, is optimistic the Games would be a “phenomenal thing” for Halifax. He cites Edmonton, the host city of the Commonwealth Games in 1978, as an example of a city that made “huge strides in public transportation” as well as much-needed improvements to urban infrastructure thanks to the games.

“There is definitely a no-camp,” says Toews, “but it all comes down to what sort of bid the city puts together. To be successful, they’re going to have to put a green emphasis on the bid, to address environmental initiatives in building, planning, transportation and housing. I’d love to see that put forward by Halifax.”