$36M for Yellowknife's Canada Games could be better spent elsewhere

There's a lot of enthusiasm for hosting the Canada Winter Games in Yellowknife in 2023, but guest columnist Garth Wallbridge argues that the money needed to host the event could be better spent elsewhere.
Team Northwest Territories arrives for the closing ceremony at the 2014 Canada Winter Games in Prince George, B.C. Yellowknife is scheduled to host the Games in 2023, but guest columnist Garth Wallbridge argues that the money needed would be better spent elsewhere. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Last week, I listened with great interest to a panel on CBC North's Trailbreaker discuss the possibility of a Yellowknife bid to host the 2023 Canada Winter Games.

  • AUDIO | Click the link on the left to listen to a panel on CBC's Trailbreaker discussing hosting the 2023 Canada Winter Games in Yellowknife
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I'm both a long-time Yellowknife resident and an ardent supporter of sport in the community. My children both grew up participating in sports in Yellowknife and around the country. My daughter even played amateur hockey when she was living in Europe for a year.

What I do not support, however, are large multisport competitions like the Canada Winter Games, especially here in Yellowknife, and, more broadly, the Northwest Territories.

Competitions like the Canada Games are completely focused on elite athletes. At an individual level, I accept that people want to strive for excellence in sport. I've seen the benefit of this first hand. For 11 years, I had an Olympic medallist work at my law firm — he was a great guy, a well-rounded person, and an excellent lawyer. There is no doubt in my mind that his sporting career helped him in many ways.

But — and this is a big but — the kind of money needed to throw a major competition should be used to support all athletes, even those who do not yet know that they are, or can be, classified as such.

Benefits for all, not elite few

The three Trailbreaker guests had much to say about the “excitement and enthusiasm” in Whitehorse when they hosted the games. However, this begs the question: how much excitement would there be if instead of spending $36 million on the two-week long Canada Winter Games, perhaps half that amount was spent — at a rate of a couple of million dollars a year for the next decade or so — in getting young people out and enjoying sports year round in Yellowknife and around the territory?

New money — additional money — just like what is being proposed for the Canada Games, could go a lot further if it was spread more broadly. I accept and appreciate that the City of Yellowknife and the Government of the Northwest Territories spend lots of money on sport.

Not their money, mind you, but our money — money that is paid by taxpayers to provide services we need. If we are to spend millions in additional funds on sport in the territory, I believe we should be using it for the benefit of all our youth, not just an elite few.

Yellowknifers have been told that a new swimming pool is needed for the Canada Winter Games, as our existing one cannot accommodate the synchronized swimming competition. I've never heard of any push from the citizens of Yellowknife for this sport — one which, dare I say, sounds pretty elitist — and I suspect that many taxpayers would support any number of programs that appeal to a wide cross section of our local population before subsidizing a synchronized swimming venue.

New money... just like what is being proposed for the Canada Games, could go a lot further if it was spread more broadly.

I've been a regular swimmer for the past 30 years in Yellowknife. I've gone to the pool, often multiple times a week, for long enough that I remember when the city only boasted a small pool in the basement of the Fraser Tower.

About 26 years ago, the City of Yellowknife opened the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool, which I still use frequently. It’s a great facility, and, in my opinion, is more than adequate for a city of our size. Like many other facilities in the city, the Ruth Inch pool supports and works for all sports minded people in Yellowknife, be they recreational or competitive.

Over the last few years, I’ve travelled to Whitehorse many times for work. While in town, I've swum in their city's pool, which was built for the 2007 Canada Winter Games. Admittedly, it's a lovely facility. However, it's no smaller than three times the size of Yellowknife's pool. And, I'd guess, most days it is used by a similar amount of people as the much smaller facility in Yellowknife.

Because Whitehorse required a larger pool to host the Canada Winter Games, they've wound up with a facility too large for the population, complete with higher operation and maintenance costs. It's a facility built for a competition, not for a population.

City should create 'new paradigm'

The Government of the Northwest Territories and City of Yellowknife should spend more money on sport: money for accessible programs, waiving user fees for kids who can’t afford them; for equipment programs to buy and loan expensive gear to those in need; for coaching clinics that will give volunteers the ability to encourage more people to be active year after year.

What we don't need to spend money on are costly facilities that will only benefit a select few of our athletes, and stick us with the operations bills for years to come.

Many people have said events like the Canada Winter Games generate interest in the host location, not to mention visits from tourists, which generates an economic boost. I understand that actual studies show that this boost falls off quickly.

On the other hand, I do truly believe that if with the additional funding budgeted for the Canada Games, Yellowknife and the territory created a new paradigm — one of “support for sport for all” — people from all over the country and around the world would be interested in the city. Not for our larger pool, but to see how we achieved something with so much social value.

I challenge Yellowknife's city council and administration, the Government of the Northwest Territories, and others involved in sport within the city and around the territory, to come up with a new paradigm.

Forget spending tax dollars for the few elite athletes. Let's spend that money (or even half of it) to benefit all of our young citizens. That's something that all taxpayers could get excited and enthusiastic about.

Garth Wallbridge is a Métis lawyer, author, and father from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.


Garth Wallbridge is a Metis lawyer, author, and father from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.


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