A packed house at the University of Victoria watches the opening ceremonies at the 1994 Commonwealth Games. The region is trying to land the Games for 2022, but at least one municipality is reluctant to support the bid. Photo courtesy University of Victoria

Esquimalt a holdout on region’s Commonwealth Games bid

Council looked for specifics in plan, saw little direct value for Esquimalt

As a Greater Victoria bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games moves toward conversations with the province and federal governments, Esquimalt reminded the public that it has not supported the effort financially.

A previous closed-door decision by Esquimalt city council, revealed this week, saw the local politicians vote against supporting a request for $25 million worth of in-kind services, to be shared proportionately by the Capital Regional District’s 13 municipalities. Mayor Barb Desjardins said the biggest concern for the township was the potential security costs.

Numbers she has heard tossed around in the community have ranged from $100 million to $400 million. “It would mean significant stress on our local police and at this time, we don’t want to support that,” Desjardins said.

But Victoria bid committee chair David Black says the committee plans to ask the federal government to cover the cost of outside security. He noted that security for the 2015 Pan-American Games in Toronto – a larger event than the Commonwealth Games – cost an estimated $180 million. Experts have told the Victoria committee that the region’s compact geography and the shorter distance between venues and the athletes accommodations, would likely reduce the cost of security, potentially to $50 million.

“When it comes to security, the experts say it is far cheaper to protect a small place and compact facilities than a large metropolitan area with spread-out venues, he said.

Desjardins expressed concern at hearing a proposal without a business plan. “It was kind of, say ‘yes’ now and we’ll figure it out later – and this is public money,” she said. “We have to be accountable to the public as to why we’re going to spend their hard-earned tax dollars.”

Much of the information council based their decision on was gathered by city staff, she added, rather than committee organizers.

Black said the committee has calculated that approximately $17 million of the $955-million estimated cost of staging the Games would be paid by local taxpayers, or roughly about 1.8 per cent, spread across the region. That budget total does not include an estimate for security, he said, as it is unknown at this time.

“There’s lots of benefits to different communities,” Desjardins acknowledged. “I can see why Langford would be interested, they’re looking to build stadiums.”

But for Esquimalt, she said, it was unlikely any events would be held there as previous venues no longer support the size of the Games, and there is little to no room to build new ones. “It was not a decision made lightly.”

For now, Mayor Desjardins remains focused on housing and transportation for the region, two busy files on which projects have slowed due in part to labour shortages. “We don’t want the focus to come off these things to focus on the Games.”

The deadline for Victoria to submit its bid is Sept. 30. Before then the committee needs to secure funding commitments from the provincial and federal governments.

kristyn.anthony@vicnews.com