Halifax drops out of Commonwealth Games race

Canada is out of the race for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, as Halifax abandoned its bid Thursday saying the $1.7-billion cost was too high.
The Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Costs of the games continue to rise. (www.glasgow2014.com)

Canada is out of the race for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, as Halifax abandoned its bid Thursday, saying the $1.7-billion cost was too high.

"To say that I am disappointed, to say that I am astonished would be to bring understatement to a new level," said Andrew Pipe, president of Commonwealth Games Canada.

The event, he said, was "eminently winnable."

Municipal and provincial politicians said once inflation is factored in, the bid budget is close to $1.7 billion — almost $1 billion higher than originally stated — and the risks associated with pursuing the Games are too high.

"I am very sorry that we have not been able to move forward with this," said Barry Barnet, Nova Scotia's minister of health promotion.

"But you know I have to be responsible. We are $700 million short in terms of our ability to meet our obligations to host these Games."

Halifax regional council voted to withdraw its support at an emergency meeting Thursday morning, but it was a difficult decision, said Mayor Peter Kelly.

"We must do what the taxpayers of HRM expect us to do and that is protect their financial interests both in the short term and in the long term," Kelly said.

Officials said the team of consultants hired to analyze the Games found there were questionable revenue projections and insufficient contingency funding that could leave the province at risk in case of cost overruns.

In addition, the consultants said 92 per cent of the cost of the Games would have to be provided bytaxpayers, a higher level than wasexpected.

The federal government said it would commit only $400 million if Halifax won the bid, while the province said it would spend up to $300 million.

Thursday's announcement came amid growing concern that Halifax and the province couldn't afford the Games, which were first pegged at $785 million.

'Never given that opportunity'

Fred MacGillivray, president of theHalifax bid committee, lashed out at the province and municipality,accusing them of giving in to a vocal minority of local critics opposed to the bid.

He said the two levels of government made a knee-jerk reaction and thebid team was prepared to bring the cost down toa figureeveryone could afford.

"We recognize if we changed some locations we may be able to reduce that number further. We asked, we were never given that opportunity," MacGillivray said.

Many supporters of the Halifax bid argued the city would get new sports facilities only if it won the Games, while others said the event would shine an international spotlight on the city and raise its profile.

"I can't describe how disappointed we are," said Chris Algar, a 1999 Canada Games athlete. "I feel this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us.

"They're saying we couldn't host it because we don't have the infrastructure. This is a chance to build that infrastructure. How do you suppose we're going to get it now?"

Accepts decision

Don Mills, chair of Bring on the Games, a group supporting the bid, said he was disappointed with the decision to withdraw but backs the province and city.

"We accept the verdict of the two levels of government in terms of the issue of affordability," said Mills, one day after he accused Kelly and Premier Rodney MacDonald of a lack of leadership on the issue.

Kelly said the Halifax team vying for the Games had spent up to $7 million as of the end of January trying to win the event.

The bid team announced last November it would cost $14.3 million to plan and design venues and facilities, as well as hire experts to sell the bid. At the end of 2006, the travel bill to 33 countries was almost $500,000.

When asked if the withdrawal will hurt Nova Scotia's reputation abroad, Barnet said the most important thing is the reputation at home.

Halifax won the right to be the Canadian bid city in 2005, beating Hamilton, Ottawa and the York region.

With Halifax out of the race, the competition for the 2014 event is among Glasgow, Scotland and Abuja, Nigeria. The winner will be announced in November.