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As Olympic officials urge B.C. to reconsider bid, MLAs raise questions about new tax tool

Leaders from the COC and CPC sent an open letter to elected officials on Nov. 21, one month after financial concerns prompted the province to kill a potential bid for the 2030 Games.
Though it appears Whistler Olympic Park won't welcome back the Games it was created for in 2030, the legacy venue is preparing to host more than 500 athletes from almost 40 countries when the 2023 FIS Nordic Junior / U23 World Nordic Ski Championships kick off early next year.

One month after the province nixed plans for a potential 2030 Olympic bid, leaders from the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic committees are urging British Columbia’s government to keep a flicker of hope alive, at the same time as questions emerged around the province’s new short-term accommodation tax tool tied to major international events.

Bid proponents sent an open letter addressed to B.C.’s elected officials on Monday, Nov. 21 inviting the province and new Premier David Eby to reconsider and “sit down with all parties and fully explore the potential of this project–together.”

Minister of Tourism, Sport and Culture Lisa Beare’s Oct. 27 announcement that the province would not support efforts to bring the Winter Olympics back to Canada’s West Coast came nearly one year after the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) joined forces with the Lilwat7úl  (Lil’wat), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations, alongside the Resort Municipality of Whistler and the City of Vancouver, to explore the feasibility of an Indigenous-led bid to host the 2030 Games.

The letter signed by COC president Tricia Smith and CPC president Marc-André Fabien said the decision took bid proponents by “surprise," particularly after a fall 2021 meeting with former B.C. Premier John Horgan left representatives "assured" the province was open to the idea of hosting. 

Considering “the feasibility work completed and a draft proposal submitted, we expected the next step to be a face-to-face meeting with all parties to discuss the costs and benefits, priorities, and possibilities,” it read. “The B.C. government has not yet given any of the parties, despite attempts by us and the Nations, an opportunity to have this discussion.”

In a statement issued Nov. 15, prior to the letter’s release, Lil’wat Nation Chief Dean Nelson told Pique his initial reaction to the province’s refusal of support for a First Nations-led Olympic bid “was one of realization that this is where we are in our relations.”

In Nelson’s view, “there was very little dialogue between the Provincial government and the Four Host Nations about the Olympic bid.” The lack of meaningful discussions with the province prompted Nelson to wonder if there was ever “any intent on entertaining the concept” of an Indigenous-led Games, he continued.

“I felt that if the Province was serious about the relationship there would have been a greater effort and availability to meet right from the beginning. I stated in the beginning of the Olympic talks that we will see where First Nations stand at the end when the decision is made,” said Nelson. “I felt that we could have had clear communication and an even better process of inclusive talks with First Nations and the Provincial government, and all parties included. The legacy could have been one of opportunity for at least one First Nation youth to experience taking part and as a witness from the Lil’wat Nation as one of the Four Host Nations.”

In Monday’s letter, Smith and Fabien reiterated the event’s potential benefits, arguing the Games could serve as a model for reconciliation and as the first climate positive Olympics. They said no Winter Games has ever “relied so little on government investment.”

The bid proposal requested more than $1.2 billion in government funding.

“Know, however, that we are only interested in moving ahead with this project if it makes sense to do so, with the benefits outweighing the costs … To make that determination it requires a full review and dialogue with all parties at the table. A unique project of this nature, led by the potential Host First Nations, deserves a deeper look,” the letter concluded.

In a written statement sent to Pique on Nov. 22, Minister of Tourism Lisa Beare said the NDP cabinet reviewed the 2030 proposal before determining the investment and risks hosting required outweighed prospective benefits. Beare said she met virtually with representatives from the host First Nations and the COC on Oct. 24 to communicate that decision.

“The Cabinet decision is binding,” Beare confirmed.

“We know that this decision is disappointing for everyone that put so much hard work into the bid,” she added, “but supporting the proposal any further would require dedicated and substantial provincial resources across government, while there are many competing priorities and challenges to be addressed.”

Questions remain about B.C.'s new Major Events MRDT

Bid stakeholders weren’t the only ones questioning the province’s decision this month.

While discussing the implementation of a new accommodation tax tied to major tourism events, BC Liberal MLAs grilled the NDP government over its introduction of that new funding tool just two business days after publicly refusing support for, arguably, the pinnacle of international events.

On Oct. 31, B.C.’s Ministry of Finance announced a new Major Events Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT) of up to 2.5 per cent on short-term accommodation sales, intended to help communities cover the cost of planning, staging and staging large-scale “international tourism” events.

The new accommodation tax is distinct from the existing MRDT already in effect in more than 60 areas across British Columbia, including Whistler. Communities will be able to apply for the tool through Destination BC.

“This isn’t a new concept,” said B.C. finance minister Selina Robinson in a release. “In 2007, a temporary 4% Resort Area Tax, on top of the existing 2% accommodation tax, was introduced in the Resort Municipality of Whistler to help pay its costs for hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics. We see the potential benefits for other communities that are working to put B.C. on the international stage and bolster our economy.”

This new funding tool comes in direct response to the City of Vancouver’s request to temporarily increase existing MRDT rates to help cover costs associated with FIFA matches in 2026. As one of 16 North American cities slated to host the next FIFA men’s World Cup, Vancouver is expected to welcome teams—and fans—for five or six matches.

Bill 42, seeking to amend the province’s Provincial Sales Tax Act to include the new MRDT tool, was discussed by the Legislative Assembly’s Committee of the Whole on Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 22, after receiving its second reading on Nov. 2. The bill received its third reading and was passed on Tuesday.

“At literally the exact same time that they were drafting Bill 42—a bill to enable extra revenue generation for international events—those same ministers said no to an Indigenous-led Olympic bid, based on potential financial risk, without ever discussing this bill and its revenue potential to those proponents so that they could rework their business plan and show the government how their risk is diminished,” said BC Liberal finance critic Peter Milobar, MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson during the assembly’s Nov. 2 session, later adding, “It defies logic as to why there were not those discussions.”

During a Tuesday, Nov. 22 committee discussion, Robinson maintained the Olympics and the new MRDT “are two completely separate” topics.

She said cabinet could see "no clear business case" for hosting the 2030 Games, and maintained the “scope and scale” of the previously-awarded FIFA matches compared to the Winter Olympics and Paralympics “are like night and day.” Beyond that, the accommodation tax being implemented to help pay for FIFA couldn't be layered to concurrently raise funds for another, even costlier event in the same municipality. 

Though the new MRDT was created specifically with Vancouver and FIFA in mind, it can, however, be used by other communities for events that meet the tool's criteria, Robinson said. Whistler’s local government, for example, could theoretically apply for the tool to help generate funds for its share of the upcoming Invictus Games.

The Major Events MRDT is intended to be “a time-limited, dedicated funding tool” available to communities ahead of big events, but questions still remain about just how many years that time-frame would be limited to, and about what constitutes a major international tourism event in the first place.

Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy asked whether that definition, for example, could be extended to “every day in Whistler?”

The resort “sees 50,000 visitors on any given day in both summer and winter,” and “generates $1.44 billion in consumer spending every year,” he told colleagues on Nov. 2. “I would argue that that’s a pretty major event. It generates $500 million in tax revenue. You’d say to yourself, ‘Well, it should have plenty of tax revenue,’ except that isn’t tax revenue that goes to the municipality, unfortunately, or fortunately. It comes to the province.”

Though Sturdy said he supports the concept of the bill, he expressed concern that there wouldn’t be enough time to clarify its terms before the Legislative Assembly’s fall session wraps up on Nov. 24.

Five Whistler events receive funding boost from B.C. TEP 

The new MRDT tool is the latest of several mechanisms the province has at its disposal to help fund events in B.C.

On Nov. 10, the province named nearly 100 organizations that will together receive $4,808,467 in funding through B.C.’s Tourism Events Program (TEP), representing the program’s return after a two-year pandemic-induced hiatus. 

Among the list were five major sporting and culture events scheduled to take place in Whistler in the coming months.

The 2023 FIS Junior /U23 World Nordic Championships will receive $102,163, while BMW IBSF Bobsleigh and Skeleton World Cup Whistler 2022, set to take place at the Whistler Sliding Centre beginning Nov. 24, has been granted $22,500. The 2022 Eberspächer Luge World Cup, scheduled to hit the Sliding Centre’s track Dec. 8 to 10, will receive $14,500.

In terms of festivals, Whistler's 2023 World Ski & Snowboard Festival was awarded $50,000 while Crankworx Whistler 2023 earns $125,000.

TEP grants are capped at a maximum of $250,000 per event.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Black Tusk Nordic Events Society said the FIS Nordic Junior/U23 World Nordic Ski Championships’ organizing committee is “really excited” to welcome more than 500 athletes from almost 40 countries to Whistler Olympic Park from Jan. 27 to Feb. 5.

“In addition to the affordable admission price to the event ($5 daily spectator ticket or a pass for the duration of the event $25), this event will be livestreamed and actively broadcasted on television across Europe,” the spokesperson added.

“Black Tusk Nordic Events Society has worked really hard with every source of funding available, including the provincial and federal governments, the private sector and many generous donors and the $100,000 received from the Tourism Event Program makes an important contribution to the event’s $3 million total budget.”