Edmonton announces bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games

On Monday, the City of Edmonton announced it will bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2022. Mayor Iveson had this to say about the news:

“Our city’s successful history as a great event host city started with the 1978 Commonwealth Games. Hosting the games in 2022 will demonstrate to the world how much Edmonton has evolved and reflect the Commonwealth Games Federation’s confidence in our city.”

As recently as a week ago, the Commonwealth Games Federation was concerned about a lack of interest in hosting future Games, potentially due to in-fighting and cost. No city had yet stepped forward, and cities that had previously expressed interest such as Singapore, Birmingham, and even London, all cancelled their plans. Then, at the last minute, Edmonton and Durban, South Africa, stepped forward.

Queen Elizabeth II 1978
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh attend the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton in 1978

When Edmonton hosted the Games in 1978, they were the biggest to date. Forty-six countries participated, sending 1,474 athletes to compete in 128 events across 10 sports. When the Games take place later this year in Glasgow, more than 70 countries are expected to participate, with more than 4,300 athletes competing in nearly 300 events across 17 sports.

Where did this come from?

The announcement seemed to come out of nowhere, but the possibility of Edmonton hosting the Games actually came up in February 2012, shortly after Commonwealth Games Canada decided to pursue another bid. Here’s what Mayor Mandel said at the time:

“I think 1978 (the last Edmonton Games) was a watershed moment for the city, and 2022, almost 45 years later, it would be a nice re-coming out party.”

“It’s a chance to showcase Edmonton. We have great facilities in the city, so I don’t think there would be a huge capital investment with these games other than some expansion. We would obviously have to do some upgrades.”

Big cities bid on major events to diversify their economies, attract tourists, build their reputations, and engage their citizens. Though many cling to a small-town mentality, Edmonton is a big city. Big cities bid on big events.

The 1978 Commonwealth Games were widely viewed as a coming out party for Edmonton, introducing us to the world stage. The City’s 2004 Annual Report reiterated this view:

“The Commonwealth Games [brought] unprecedented attention Edmonton, marking it as a city of international prestige and importance.”

It’s not like Edmonton has been standing still since 1978 either. We followed the Commonwealth Games up with the 1983 Universiade Games. We have hosted World Cup qualifying matches, World Figure Skating Championships, the 2005 World Masters Games, and much more. Perhaps biggest of all, we hosted the 2001 World Championships in Athletics.

The next few years will be especially busy. This year Edmonton is hosting seven games during the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Canada, and next year we’re hosting eleven games during the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada. Off the pitch, Edmonton is hosting the 2015 and 2016 Canadian Track and Field Championships, the latter of which will serve as the Canadian Olympic Track and Field Trials for athletes looking to compete in the Summer Olympics in Brazil. It’s going to be an exciting few years for sports in our city!

Would the federal government support the bid?

Edmonton’s bid to host EXPO 2017 was brought to a halt in 2010 after the Government of Canada withdrew its support, citing the unknown future costs of security. Mayor Mandel felt the real reason was a lack of support for our city, saying that “when it comes to Edmonton’s growth and ambition, our federal government simply isn’t interested.” He singled out MP Rona Ambrose for failing to build the necessary support in Ottawa for Edmonton’s bid.

Edmonton EXPO 2017 Launch

Do we need federal support for this bid? Financially, it seems unlikely a successful event could be staged without support from the Government of Canada, despite City Manager Simon Farbrother’s optimism that the City and Province could support it themselves. The reality is that hosting the Games is a $1 billion proposition, based on recent costs. Security concerns would also likely be a federal issue.

Would the federal government support this bid? Sport Canada guidelines outline that the federal government can only support two Canadian bids for major games in any decade. It is widely expected that Quebec City will bid to host the Winter Olympics, so Edmonton would be counting on being the second major event host.

Halifax was hoping to bid for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, but they were forced to withdraw their bid over concerns with the budget. It was the first time Canada had withdrawn a bid for a Commonwealth Games event. Edmonton’s bid would need to be rock solid.

What does this mean for LRT?

One of the drivers behind Edmonton’s failed bid to host EXPO 2017 was infrastructure money expansion for LRT. Big events require big money, and it was hoped that part of staging a successful event would mean expanding the transit network. Many Edmontonians were quick to make the connection to LRT after Monday’s announcement too.

It’s true that Edmonton’s LRT first opened in 1978, just months before the Commonwealth Games. But that project is not what took the LRT from conception to reality, nor is it what funded the construction. From Ride of the Century:

“In truth, the visionary planning that laid the foundation for the LRT dated back to the decommissioning of the streetcars in 1951, but it took until the early 1960s for the rapid transit dream to take coherent shape in D.L. MacDonald’s Report on the Present Operating Conditions of the Edmonton Transit System With a View to Determining a Policy for The Future Operation of the System in 1961.”

When the LRT opened on April 22, 1978, at a cost of $64.9 million, it was 7.25 km long with five stations.


Edmonton hosted the 1978 Commonwealth Games from August 3 to 12. Edmonton Transit had been planning transportation for the Games for two years, even assembling a fleet of 724 buses from Edmonton, Calgary, and Red Deer rolling stock to help meet demand. Their planning paid off.

“Edmonton Transit conveyed almost two million spectators to events over the nine days of the Games, and on August 8, the LRT system set a ridership record of over 69,000 people.”

“The Games were a shining moment for the city, and Edmonton Transit had played its part well passing the gargantuan test with flying colours.”

Just as we needed to continue building LRT with or without EXPO 2017, we need to move forward with LRT expansion whether we host the Games or not. I’d hate to see us tie LRT expansion money to the bid. LRT is our top infrastructure priority, and this event should have no bearing on that.

What does this mean for other infrastructure?

Events like the Commonwealth Games typically leave a physical legacy of facilities in the cities that host them. New sports and recreation facilities built for the Games could serve Edmontonians for years to come.

It is expected that Commonwealth Stadium would once again serve as the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies. It has received numerous upgrades in recent years, and could still receive more. Other facilities that were built for the 1978 Games, like Kinsmen, would likely receive upgrades and could be used. Foote Field was recently upgraded, and a new velodrome adjacent to Peter Hemingway pool has already been in the works. Edmonton had bid to host the 2015 World University Games, and had included a list of facilities as part of that bid that never moved forward. Those plans would likely be dusted off if this bid is successful.

Who is the competition?

In 1978, Edmonton’s competition was Leeds in England, a city with a population of about 200,000 more at the time. Our competition for the 2022 Commonwealth Games is Durban, a South African city of nearly 600,000 in a much larger metro area home to more than 3.4 million people. South Africa has never hosted the Games before, so that likely gives them an edge.

Apparently Durban had previously considered a bid for the 2020 or 2024 Summer Olympics, which suggests to me they are hungry to host another major international event and will be stiff competition. Durban hosted matches in the 2003 ICC Cricket World Cup and was of course one of the host cities for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Canada has hosted the Games four times: 1930 in Hamilton, 1954 in Vancouver, 1978 in Edmonton, and 1994 in Victoria. Edinburgh and Auckland are the only cities to have hosted the Games more than once.

Can Edmonton win? City Manager Simon Farbrother is certainly confident:

“We will, yes. We don’t go into these things to come second. Let’s put it that way.”

What’s next?

The cost of bidding had previously been estimated to range from $8 million to $10 million. Edmonton and Durban will work to finalize their bids by March 2015. After that, members of the Commonwealth Games Federation will meet a General Assembly in Auckland, New Zealand to choose a winner on September 2, 2015.

An Edmonton delegation will be travelling to Glasgow this year as official observers to learn best practices. The City has apparently talked with Glasgow officials about the bidding process too.

The City of Edmonton has said it will continue discussions with the Province and will be looking to engage other stakeholders throughout the country to win their support. Of course, Edmontonians will also be invited to get involved, so look forward to those opportunities in the near future.

LRT Expansion was never just icing on the Edmonton EXPO 2017 cake

Allow me to begin with a passage from the executive summary of The Way We Move, the City of Edmonton’s current Transportation Master Plan:

We are building a 21st century city, shaping an Edmonton that will meet the needs of our diverse and growing urban and regional population. Growing environmental concerns, acknowledgment of the ongoing investment needed to maintain our transportation infrastructure and the rapid growth of our city demand a shift in transportation priority setting. It is a shift from single passenger vehicle use to more public transit; from building outward to a compact urban form. From an auto oriented view of transportation to a more holistic view of an interconnected, multi-modal transportation system where citizens can walk, bike, bus and train efficiently and conveniently to their desired location.

The City of Edmonton is working to achieve this vision through the LRT Network Plan, as well as other initiatives. This vision does not ignore automobiles, but it certainly places greater emphasis on public transit.

At the top of the list of benefits that EXPO 2017 could have brought to Edmonton was funding for infrastructure. Was it the best way to try to get higher levels of government to commit to funding something that Edmonton so desperately needs? Perhaps not. But make no mistake about it: funding for LRT expansion was never just icing on the EXPO 2017 cake. Expanding our LRT network is vital for Edmonton’s future. Here’s what Councillor Don Iveson wrote nearly a year ago:

Projects like this require the alignment of at least two and, properly, three orders of government. It will require the relentless pressure of citizens on Councillors, but more particularly on MLAs and MPs.

He was right then and still is today. Our quest to be Canada’s host city for EXPO 2017 might have failed, but we cannot allow our plans for LRT expansion to fail as well.

At a news conference yesterday, Transportation GM Bob Boutilier questioned why Edmonton had not received the same level of federal support as Toronto has when it comes to funding for public transit, saying “I just think we’re owed. It’s time.” But he also suggested that LRT expansion plans would be delayed by a year or two now that EXPO is no longer in the picture, something that would potentially save money.

This is unacceptable.

It’s unacceptable that the expansion is being delayed, and it’s unacceptable that it’s Boutilier and not Council questioning the federal government’s support.

Why would LRT expansion have been fast-tracked with EXPO 2017 but not without it? Back in April, Boutilier said that meeting the deadline of 2017 was “do-able” with some creativity, noting that “we cannot use the conventional approach to building transit that we’ve used in the city up to this point.” A few weeks later, he suggested a board of directors to oversee the construction as a way to speed up the project. At the time, the cost of the expansion was pegged at “more than $3 billion”. It has since been narrowed down to $3.4 billion. So either it was going to cost significantly more than Boutilier was letting on, or the cost savings of delaying by a year or two are negligible.

I think Boutilier has one of the toughest jobs at the City of Edmonton, overseeing one of the most vital and controversial parts of the business, so I don’t envy the tough decisions he has to make. Boutilier should definitely be willing to make noise about the lack of resources he has, but in the same week that we lost EXPO, I would have liked to have heard some Councillors speak up for LRT as well. Instead, that job has been left to Boutilier and to EXPO bid committee chair Tony Franceschini. I’ve seen only Councillor Ben Henderson comment, saying “I personally don’t want to see us slow down.” Councillor Kerry Diotte also remarked on funding, “With the feds these days, who knows?”

I want my City Council to stand up for The Way We Move. If there’s a window of opportunity with regards to the federal government as a result of the EXPO decision, take advantage of it. Ask Administration to keep going, not to slow down. Make some noise. Show some of the emotion that Mayor Mandel showed on Monday.

The loss of EXPO shouldn’t be an excuse for us to slow down with LRT expansion. It should be a catalyst for increased pressure to get the job done.

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.

Edmonton EXPO 2017 – Preparing a National Bid

Last night I attended an information session at City Hall on Edmonton’s bid for EXPO 2017. The purpose of the event was to provide information to potential volunteers, but they also covered quite a bit of background information on just what EXPO (or the World’s Fair) is all about (check out the Wikipedia article for more information). After the World Cup and the Olympics, EXPO is the world’s third largest event in terms of economic and cultural impact. There are two kinds of expositions – “registered” (larger) and “recognized” (smaller). Edmonton is pursuing a bid for a Recognized Exposition.

edmonton expo 2017

Last fall, a citizen committee of 40 “community and business leaders” completed a high-level assessment of a potential bid. A preliminary survey of 300 residents found that 85% support an Edmonton bid. On October 23rd, the committee submitted a report to Council which unanimously concluded that Edmonton should seriously consider making a bid for the event.

Of course, this idea has been in the works for far longer than just a few months. Councillor Jane Batty attended EXPO 2008 in Zaragoza, Spain over the summer and met with a number of key individuals and organizations. Zaragoza is similar to Edmonton in a lot of ways – both cities have roughly the same population (Edmonton is a bit larger), both have a river running through the city, and both have strong economies. There are differences, of course – Edmonton is just over 100 years old while Zaragoza is 2000 years old!

Why does Edmonton want to host EXPO 2017? There are a number of benefits, including:

  • Facilitating international trade and business opportunities
  • Encouraging urban renewal
  • Generating goodwill and community pride
  • Showcasing Edmonton on the world stage
  • Creating a lasting legacy of infrastructure, research, and scientific knowledge and education

And there are financial benefits too. Current estimates suggest a return of $1.12 to $1.15 for every $1.00 invested, and this excludes any legacy benefits. Here are a few more numbers:

  • Taking into account population estimates for 2017, roughly 4.7 million visits would be expected
  • That translates into about 52,000 people on the site each day (for comparison, the average daily attendance of CapitalEX is about 77,000)
  • The cost of similarly sized EXPOs ranges from $1.6 billion to $3 billion (in 2008 figures)
  • A rough guess at the cost for Edmonton EXPO 2017 is $2.3 billion

I think Edmonton has a fairly good chance of being successful with this bid. The last time EXPO was in North America was EXPO ‘86 in Vancouver, and the next few are all in Asia and Europe as well. The year 2017 happens to be the 150th anniversary of Canada, so that’s definitely going to help our chances too.

Here’s the rough timeline for Edmonton’s bid:

Phase 1 – Fall 2007 to Fall 2008: Approve conceptual study
Phase 2 – Fall 2008 to Fall 2009: Develop national bid and submit to Canadian Heritage
Phase 3 – Fall 2009 to Spring 2011: Edmonton selected as Canada’s candidate, develop international bid
Phase 4 – Spring 2011 to Fall 2012: Submit bid to BIE, Edmonton selected to host EXPO 2017
Phase 5 – Fall 2012 to Spring 2017: Prepare to host EXPO 2017

There’s a lot of work to be done before we get to that point, however.

Edmonton EXPO 2017Edmonton EXPO 2017

The next step is to prepare a national bid for consideration by the federal government. Volunteers are needed for four committees: theme development, site and infrastructure planning, community engagement, and sponsorship. Each committee will be comprised of up to 15 members who will meet six times throughout the year, so the time commitment is definitely reasonable.

Obviously I took the photo above before everyone arrived, but it didn’t really fill up. I’d guess there were about 20 people in attendance, much smaller than I expected. I hope they get the required number of volunteers to progress things! I’m going to apply to join the community engagement committee.

The deadline to apply is January 23rd at 4:30pm. You can download the application package in either PDF or Word formats. Enthusiasm is perhaps more important than relevant skills or experience, so if you’re interested in bringing EXPO to Edmonton, consider joining one of the committees!