The Canada Games Council is back to the drawing board after the Yukon government withdrew its bid to host

The Canada Games Council says it is in an unprecedented position after the Yukon government withdrew its bid to host the 2027 Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse.

The territorial government, which had submitted a joint bid to host the games with the city of Whitehorse, pulled the plug earlier this week. In a declarationRichard Mostyn, minister of community services, said the territory could not get the federal funding needed to host the games.

Whitehorse was the only city that had come forward to host. With no backup plan, the Canada Games Council says it will race to find a new host just over four years from the games’ scheduled start.

“We typically begin a bid evaluation process after about seven and a half years,” said Kelly-Ann Paul, president and CEO of the Canada Games Council. “So we’re definitely behind the eight ball in terms of the number of years to find a new host.”

Ambitious offer

Paul said the board was impressed with the offer. Lui said it included plans to highlight local cultures and the council was keen to bring the games back to northern Canada.

Canada Games Council President and CEO Kelly-Ann Paul. Paul says the board will scramble to find a new host now that the Yukon has withdrawn its offer. (Canadian Games Council)

When asked if the territory could have hosted the games at a lower cost, Paul said yes. But that would have depended on what the city and territory wanted to get out of hospitality.

“The proposal was definitely, you know, a brighter version of what would have been needed to host the Canadian games,” he said. “Other opportunities could have been presented that would have met the standard of the Canada Games. But this is the one that met the requirements for the City of Whitehorse and the Government of Yukon to grow from this opportunity.”

It was estimated that the games would cost more than $185 million, with much of it spent on a new arena and housing for the athletes.

Paul said it would be up to the host and bid committee to cut costs. Mostyn said he has taken steps to do so, including reducing the ice rink’s capacity.

“It certainly wasn’t a Cadillac ice hockey rink,” Mostyn said Morning Yukon host Elyn Jones. “It met the needs of the games committee. We needed to be able to seat up to 5,000 people in the arena – we were actually down to 3,500 people. So we made a lot of refinements to the design to make sure it was cost effective.”

Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn in a file photo from earlier this year. Mostyn says the bid committee has been trying to keep costs down. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

The federal government had agreed to kick $16.75 million, including $3 million in capital funding. This is the standard amount for any small jurisdiction, but the Yukon government said it was only three percent of what was required.

The City of Whitehorse had also agreed to offer $11 million. Even with that, the Yukon government would be left with a bill of about $160 million, which Mostyn said was unfeasible.

Paul said the games board began to see that money for the infrastructure hadn’t been confirmed in August, which raised some concerns. However, the council thought things would settle down after their last visit to the territory.

“It was still a surprise,” said Paul. “But it was definitely a risk that we saw.”

Big request to the federal government

Yukon Assemblyman Brendan Hanley said the territory has asked the federal government for a lot of money, far more than the maximum amount Sport Canada can typically offer.

“I was a little disappointed to put him at the feet of the federal government,” he said Morning Yukon host Elyn Jones. “You have to think: The Yukon offering included these two huge infrastructure demands.”

Hanley compared Sport Canada’s $16.75 million guaranteed contribution to this year’s summer games in Ontario’s Niagara region, for which the agency provided $12 million.

He said the federal government was willing to consider other places where federal money could be found for housing and infrastructure, but was unable to provide guarantees before the Yukon government’s deadline.

“They needed a solid commitment to avoid taking the risk themselves,” Hanley said. “But on the other hand, really, essentially asking for a check for $130 million, or a solid commitment in writing … that’s not something the federal government can do.”

Indigenous games should be present

Now that the Yukon has withdrawn its bid, the question remains as to whether these upcoming Winter Games will include Indigenous games. The offer to host in Whitehorse included a plan to include Arctic Sports and Dene Games as part of the programming.

Gaël Marchand, executive director of the Yukon Aboriginal Sports Circle, said his organization had already prepared technical packs for sports and was eager to include them.

“In times of reconciliation and inclusiveness, and of movement towards a more inclusive sports system, our hope is that indigenous sport will still be included in other venues hosting the games and our proposals will still be used,” said Marchand.

Which indigenous games might be featured depends on where the games are hosted.

“We will, obviously, have a minor voice by not being the host,” Marchand said. “Being the host was a really strong position, especially with the support of the Yukon First Nations here in the Yukon.”

Tracey Bilsky, executive director of Sport Yukon, said many people involved in sports in the territory were disappointed that the offer was withdrawn.

“It’s easy to just focus on the expenditure side of the budget and leave out the other side,” he said. “The numbers of tourism, the visibility of your territory, the growth of people’s skills and just the liveliness of [the] games themselves”.

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