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Yes side lacks Olympic touch

Skepticism over ‘kittens and rainbows’

It was a mistake to turn the TransLink funding vote into a two-and-a-half month marathon, says the leader of the Yes campaign in the City of Vancouver’s sprint-like, 2003 Olympic bid plebiscite.

“I just worry with it dragging out that a lot of people may not ultimately vote, they’ll just get tired of the debate,” Concert Properties chair David Podmore told the Courier.

In 2013, the B.C. Liberals promised a referendum on new TransLink funding to coincide with the November 2014 municipal elections. It was delayed and downgraded to the non-binding, March 16 to May 29 mail-in plebiscite.

Podmore’s Team Yes 2010 was victorious Feb. 22, 2003 when 86,113 voted to support Vancouver’s bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics, versus 48,651 opposed. That plebiscite happened after COPE Mayor Larry Campbell’s 2002 election promise. The Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation, chaired by then-Concert boss Jack Poole, won the July 2, 2003 International Olympic Committee host city election.

Podmore said that Concert donated $10,000 to the Yes to Better Transit and Transportation campaign and he has offered advice.

“You need a single point of contact, you need an individual in the community that everyone would respect and to be the proactive lead,” Podmore said. “I know that Iain [Black] and Peter Robinson and others are actively out there telling the story of what this can mean for our community. So far there hasn’t been a personality attached to this, other than [Jim] Pattison in terms of the oversight, if the plebiscite proceeds. Which I hope it does.”

Chris Shaw led No Games 2010 and says the 2015 Yes campaign is also an odd alliance of political, business and labour interests who are making lofty promises to help a magnet for controversy. Back then it was the Bid Corporation. Today it is TransLink.

No Games 2010 opposed diverting money from healthcare and education to subsidize the Olympics. Bid boosters urged voters to ignore B.C. Liberal social services cutbacks and claimed the Games would bring new infrastructure, spur economic growth and benefit hospitals and schools in the long-run.

“It’s hard not for anybody to know how this city has evolved, especially during the Olympic period, and even from Expo, not to see the hands of developers behind this,” Shaw said. “When you put Vision Vancouver and Pattison on the same side, the smell of that becomes fairly apparent.”

Podmore admitted “developers are holding back a bit.”

“If we were to lead this, people would say, ‘oh well that’s the developers, you know they’re going to benefit from this,’” Podmore said. “The whole community benefits from the development of transit-oriented communities.”

As in 2003, there are no campaign financing or reporting rules. Shaw said his group raised $5,000 but believes Team Yes 2010’s $700,000 was supplemented by the provincial government. No TransLink Tax claimed $27,259.80 in donations as of March 11. TransLink’s Mayors’ Council has a $6-million taxpayer-funded Yes campaign budget. Yes to Better Transit and Transportation hasn’t decided whether to publish its donations.

The 2003 vote led to seven years of $6 billion to $8 billion in spending to build and operate the Games, with legacies like the $800-million Sea-to-Sky Highway upgrade and $2 billion Canada Line.

In 2002, InterVistas estimated B.C.’s economy would grow by $10.7 billion from hosting the Games and building the Vancouver Convention Centre. When it was over, PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated the “Games Effect” was more likely $2.34 billion. The bid book estimated $1.3 billion for Games operations. VANOC dissolved in 2014 claiming a balanced $1.9-billion budget.

Neither the federal nor B.C. auditor general probed its books or Games-related spending.

VANOC’s May 2007 business plan assumed “no recession through Games time,” but 2008’s Great Recession gave way to bankruptcy of sponsors General Motors and Nortel. City hall took over the $1.1 billion Olympic Village in 2009, a debt it carried until 2014.

A building boom caused concrete and steel price hikes and labour shortages that drove up VANOC construction costs $110 million by 2006. Could history repeat if a majority of voters from Lions Bay to Langley vote Yes to fund a third of the $7.7 billion Mayors’ Council plan and the province and feds pledge to match funding? Broadway subway, Surrey light rail and Pattullo Bridge projects could compete for workers and materials with the Massey bridge and Site C dam projects and potential for an LNG plant or pipeline somewhere in B.C.

“The economic downturn and the rising price of housing have probably made people a little less economically secure than in 2003,” Shaw said. “People are just less-inclined to believe these kittens and rainbows promises.”

Despite the Yes campaign’s urgency, there is no internationally imposed deadline, as there was when Vancouver sought the Olympics in 2003.