British Columbia

Consultation on 2030 Olympics bid in B.C. unlikely to involve referendum

The debate over what say local residents should have in whether an Olympic bid goes forward is a question that has played out differently over time in Canada and elsewhere.

Musqueam chief wants city to respect will of Indigenous communities on whether to move forward

A map showing the potential sites for the 2030 Olympics and Paralympics in the Whistler, B.C. region is unveiled from behind a decorated blanket.
A plan for a bid to host the 2030 Olympics and Paralympics was unveiled Tuesday in Whistler. The group leading the bid includes four host First Nations as well as the municipalities of Vancouver and Whistler. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

After months of work, four B.C. First Nations and the Canadian Olympic Committee have come forward with their concept for how the province could host the 2030 Winter Olympics.

It means there's a detailed plan now in place for where the events would be held, and an outline for how an Indigenous-led games would showcase their cultures and history.   

Now comes the tricky part: getting everyone on board. 

"I think we'll go back to our community and we'll consult," said xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Chief Wayne Sparrow, explaining that over the next few months the nation and the other three host nations — Lil̓wat7úl (Lil'wat), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) — would decide whether they wanted to go through with a formal bid with the Canadian Olympic Committee. 

ʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Chief Wayne Sparrow says he wants First Nations to be the key decision-makers in the 2030 Olympic bid. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Should a bid take place, a decision by the International Olympic Committee is expected in 2023.

At the same time, Sparrow hopes the City of Vancouver will accept whatever decision is made by the host nations on whether to move forward, without a firm yes/no council vote or plebiscite.

"I think that would go a long ways in reconciliation, showing that our leadership, our communities have a say in what they want to do to move forward," he said. 

"It should be decided by the communities, whether they want to welcome the world like we did 150 years ago."

To vote or not to vote? 

The debate over what say local residents should have in whether an Olympic bid goes forward is a question that has played out differently over time in Canada and elsewhere.

In 2002, Vancouver council made holding a plebiscite a condition for supporting the games, but it passed the next year  and the city was awarded the games soon after. Conversely, a proposed Calgary bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics was cancelled after a losing plebiscite. 

Just last week, one of the other contenders for the 2030 Olympics, the Japanese city of Sapporo, rejected holding a referendum.

While Mayor Kennedy Stewart was not at Wednesday's event, citing a long-scheduled family commitment, Canadian Olympic Committee President Tricia Smith and Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton said they didn't support the idea of a referendum.

"I don't think a plebiscite takes seriously the Indigenous-led nature of this process. … My intention is to work hard with them to understand if this is something that we want to move forward" said Crompton.

"What we're learning from the Indigenous process is it's a process of give and take dialogue," said Smith.

"It's not black and white. And we heard that today."

More megaprojects to come? 

For his part, Stewart issued a statement that stopped short of a full endorsement of a bid, while saying council would have a chance to weigh in next month.

"As I have said many times, this is about First Nations inviting settler colonial governments like ours into an Indigenous-led process. Today is a moment to recognize this way of doing things, and celebrate that it has led us to a proposed concept of a 2030 Winter Olympic Games rooted in reconciliation," he wrote. 

"It is an opportunity not only to explore with our communities the idea of hosting the Olympics, but more importantly the idea of working in true partnership with the First Peoples of these lands."

That work will happen in the next few months, along with the provincial and federal governments determining the level of financial commitment they would be comfortable guaranteeing in an official bid. A budget for the Games is expected next month.

One way or another, there will be conversations about Vancouver's role in international mega events in the weeks ahead, and what commitments the city will make. 

After all, the 2026 FIFA World Cup sites will be announced on Thursday. 


Justin McElroy


Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.