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Five years after Vancouver 2010: The price of the party

John Furlong looks at Vancouver from Yaletown (2015) (Martin MacMahon, NEWS 1130 Photo)

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – It’s been five years since the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, and with that passage of time we now know more than ever about what the costs of the massive event actually were.

In July, the organizers of the games turned in their final report, with VANOC claiming revenues and expenses of just under $1.9 billion.

“We didn’t have free licence to just do what we wanted,” John Furlong, who chaired VANOC, told News1130 during a sit down interview in Yaletown overlooking the Olympic Village. “We had commitments and promises to keep, and we tried very hard to keep those. I would have been ashamed of us had we not been able to confirm at the end of the games that we’d finished in the black. I would have been ashamed, because we gave our word that it would be that way.”

Beyond anticipated expenses, crews on Cypress Mountain had to work miracles to find a way to get the venues there ready for elite competition despite a notoriously snowless winter – and the costs of that continued to rise.

“The cost to remedy that within the VANOC budget was extraordinary, but we managed to figure it out and move things around,” says Furlong. “We used every contingency dollar we had, but we never took it over the line into the red.”

But critics point out VANOC’s final report doesn’t include any of the related infrastructure that was essential for the games to go ahead – infrastructure that proponents say would have been built regardless of whether the games came here or not.

Think of the likes of the Vancouver Convention Centre, which cost $883 million after taxpayers were originally told it would cost around $500 million.

Then there’s the Canada Line, which cost $2.1 billion; there is less criticism about that particular project but the point from critics is that the report doesn’t tell the full story of what the games actually cost taxpayers.

The Sea-to-Sky Highway, another legacy project from the Games, also isn’t factored in.

When you add up the cost of the event itself and all related projects, the total cost is estimated somewhere in the range of $7 billion to $9 billion.

Perhaps nobody has looked into the financials of the event than freelance journalist Bob Mackin, who authored Red Mittens and Red Ink: The Real Story of the Vancouver Olympics.

Bob Mackin at the top of Cypress Mountain (Martin MacMahon, News1130 Photo)
Bob Mackin at the top of Cypress Mountain
(Martin MacMahon, News1130 Photo)

“A lot of people in Vancouver question the money that was spent, and we never really got a full accounting of the money that was spent,” Mackin told News1130 during an interview on the top of Cypress Mountain.

“The auditor general even threw his hands up and said, ‘can’t do it.’ We seem to believe it may have been between $8 billion to $9 billion for everything. To build the venues for competition and non-competition; to build the transportation links, including the Canada Line and the Sea-to-Sky Highway; the convention centre – everything that needed to be done.”

In the context of Vancouver’s social problems, especially in the Downtown Eastside, Mackin notes there was vocal opposition in the lead up to the games.

Indeed, the day after the opening ceremony, more than 200 masked protesters stormed downtown Vancouver, tossing mailboxes through the windows of a Hudson’s Bay store in perhaps the most memorable act of resistance to the games.

“A lot of people said [the Olympics] wasn’t a wise investment, with the social problems we have in Vancouver, especially the homelessness in the Downtown Eastside,” says Mackin. “Others said it was as good investment, that it could do for Vancouver in the 21st century what Expo 86 did in the 20th century.”

Beyond the fact VANOC’s report excludes government projects that were built outside of its oversight, even the organizing committee’s figures are not fully accessible to the public, and won’t be for some time.

“This was an organization that was allowed, by the provincial government, under Premier Gordon Campbell at the time, to be outside the reach of Freedom of Information,” says Mackin. “That meant they were less accountable than other organizations.”

Mackin points out the 2015 Pan American Games, being hosted in Toronto this summer, enjoy no such Freedom of Information exemptions.

“The people who are paying for it, have a right to know what’s going on on the inside, before, during, and after,” says Mackin. “There’s a situation right now where VANOC transferred its corporate archives to the Vancouver archives in Vanier Park, and the most interesting, most important and most crucial documents from those archives, we can’t see right now. They have restricted access to those documents for the minutes, for the deep financials.

“We get the quarterly reports, those were published, but the actual week by week, day by day, financial reports, audits, internal reports, again, minutes from the board meetings – we can’t see those right now. Those are restricted from public access until the year 2025. There are some documents and files that are restricted from access until the year 2111. Hopefully our children and grandchildren will get to see them.”

News1130′s Martin MacMahon’s four-part series to mark the anniversary of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games will continue this week.