Government of Canada denies Edmonton EXPO 2017

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the federal government has announced that it will not support Edmonton’s bid to host EXPO 2017. A short note on the Edmonton EXPO 2017 website announced the news:

In a meeting with Mayor Stephen Mandel earlier today, Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore announced that the Government of Canada will not support Edmonton’s bid to host EXPO 2017. The key reason given was the unknown future costs of security. This decision comes in light of November survey results that showed 79 per cent of Albertans supported the bid for EXPO 2017 with 46 per cent indicating strong support. Almost 1800 Canadians were surveyed. On behalf of the EXPO 2017 Bid Committee thank you to all Albertans and Canadians for their interest, effort and support of EXPO 2017.

Here’s the letter from James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage & Official Languages, courtesy of the Edmonton Journal:

This afternoon, Mayor Stephen Mandel held a press conference at City Hall to discuss the news. Here are some notes, including the ones I live-tweeted:

  • Mandel started by talking about the 2010 Grey Cup Festival, saying he was confident it would be a big success and that Edmonton would shine.
  • Flanked by members of City Council and members of the EXPO 2017 bid committee, Mandel confirmed that the Government of Canada will not support Edmonton EXPO 2017. Mandel was quick to praise the solid work of the bid committee and all EXPO 2017 volunteers.
  • Mandel said a recent survey of Albertans showed that 79% supported the project.
  • Mandel singled out MP Rona Ambrose as the specific reason that Edmonton failed to gain federal support. When pressed for a reason, he said others in the federal government looked to Ambrose for direction, and she just failed to commit.
  • MPs Laurie Hawn and James Rajotte were cited as supporters of the bid.
  • Mandel: “This [federal] government has far too easily ignored the needs of this province.”
  • The only immediate ask of the federal government was $10 million, to continue with the bid process.
  • Mandel said the federal government’s “apparent sincerity in exploring” EXPO 2017 was completely false.
  • Mandel: “When it comes to Edmonton’s growth and ambition, our federal government simply isn’t interested.”
  • Randy Ferguson, member of the bid committee, said “Albertans took a kick in the teeth today from the federal government.” In the media scrum afterward, Ferguson, a card-carrying Conservative, said “the prime minister is no longer my prime minister.”
  • Ruth Kelly, another bid committee member, was just as angry but said we’ll find other ways to showcase Edmonton.
  • Mandel made it clear that he feels the federal government decided not to support Edmonton because we’re in the west.
  • Ferguson was more to the point, saying that Edmonton is paying for the security budget overruns that happened at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, and the G8/G20 summits.
  • Mandel: “The proof is in the pudding, when it comes to delivering the goods in our city, [the federal government] failed.”
  • Mandel: “I’ve never been as mad at anything, I’m so disappointed in the lack of vision from this government.”
  • Asked about what this means for LRT, Mandel said “we’ll continue to push forward” and said “we have a strong partner in the province.”
  • Ferguson said that because of the way the due diligence worked, the federal government had already signed off on the budget and security plan for the Edmonton bid.

I’ve never seen Mandel so upset, his voice shaky as the passion and anger poured out. Afterward, when asked what was next, Ferguson said “cooler heads must prevail” and said the team will digest the news more fully before any other action is taken.

Mandel on EXPO 2017Mandel on EXPO 2017

Technically, all Edmonton needs to move ahead with the bid is the federal government’s consent. If Edmonton could come up with another way to fund the project, there’s a chance that they could go back to the federal government to ask for just consent and no funding. That, obviously, is very unlikely to happen.

For some reason, there’s a big disconnect between the amount of money Edmonton is asking for, and the amount of money the federal government thinks they will have to spend. Moore specifically cited the cost of security in his letter, a point on which Ferguson was very blunt: “The cost of security ballooned for the Olympics and for the G8/G20 and Edmonton is paying the price.”

When pressed, Mandel said he didn’t think the lack of federal support was about money. It was clear that he feels slighted by the government. There are indications that the announcement was related to a decision to deny money for a Quebec arena. I’m sure it will all come out in the wash.

Edmonton needs to focus right now on making sure the 2010 Grey Cup Festival is a big success. Let’s remind everyone that we excel at hosting big events. We’ll find another way to showcase our great city. We’ll make it happen.

What’s less clear is how we’ll acquire the infrastructure funding that EXPO 2017 would have brought to this city. Mandel talked about this during the press conference as well, noting that Edmonton (and indeed Alberta) often gets the short end of the stick. I’m not sure what it’ll take, but we need to make a solid ask for funding. As disappointing as it is to lose EXPO 2017, it would be much, much worse to lose the ability to make our City Vision a reality.

You can follow the news with #expo2017 on Twitter.

UPDATE: Here is Mayor Mandel’s full statement.