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Sunday, Apr. 22, 2018
Sudbury debates Games bid as North Bay forges forward
by Randy Pascal

I could not help but to notice the irony that only a month or so after the Sudbury City Council provided a relatively lukewarm supporting vote to the bid for the 2021 Canada Summer Games, that North Bay mayor Al McDonald proudly beamed with the news that their city had been selected to play host to the 2018 Ford World Women’s Curling Championships.

If in fact the costs and risks of pursuing an aggressive sports tourism strategy far outweigh the benefits, as appears to be the mindset of at least some Sudbury city councilors, then that argument is falling on deaf ears in countless other communities across this country.

I cannot, for a second, feign impartiality when it comes to the debate of the 2021 Games. I don’t suppose anyone who would considers their involvement with local sports as a lifelong passion could do so in good conscience.

Likewise, I do not consider myself blind to both sides of the debate, and the obvious need for all city councils, in Sudbury and elsewhere, to serve as prudent over-seers of the taxpayers coffers. It would, however, be nice if at least both sides of the debate are clearly aware of the pros and cons with as much accuracy as possible, given the fact that we are talking about the hosting of an event that is still almost five years away.

It has, for instance, been suggested that there is little to no tangible effect on the tax base of our City from the hosting of a set of Games that would attract thousands of athletes, officials, family and friends to Sudbury.

While it seems difficult to imagine that the kind of influx of revenues in the period of the Games themselves does not translate into extra dollars both for at least some of the business community, as well as the employees of said businesses, there is more to this argument.

I can certainly understand one suggesting that not all of the $9 million dollars that would be spent between the three levels of government on infrastructure spending would remain in Sudbury. Some of the construction and upgrades to existing sporting facilities would be awarded to companies with very little local ties.

However, the federal and provincial governments have also allocated another $14 million dollars, over and above the monies directed to infrastructure, to be spent on Games operation. A good chunk of this money will be utilized in covering the cost of Games staff, some of whom will begin their workload a few years ahead of the event itself, many of whom are likely to be local residents.

Permanent employment? Not really. But dollars that go directly into the pockets of Sudburians, who are an integral and permanent part of the local tax base? Absolutely.

Which brings me to another interesting point in this debate. There is no denying that local taxpayers are being asked to support a venture that will involve the expenditure of city monies. Exactly how much money can be debated, but fair to suggest that even the best estimates are not completely minimal.

What taxpayers should be reminded, however, is that the same folks who provide the funding for the running of the City proper, also pay into the war chests of the governments of Ontario and Canada.

Regardless of whether Sudbury is awarded the Games or not, those two levels of government have committed a total of $20 million dollars for the hosting of the 2021 Canada Summer Games, somewhere in Ontario.

I suppose one could argue that Sudbury folks are going to play a part in seeing these Games take place, even if local council opts not to move forward with the bid come their January meeting. So at least part of our monies will go to build new infrastructure and pay for the Games to be hosted elsewhere in the province if, in fact, local officials decide to back Sudbury out of this four horse race.

Still, I’ve always felt that the one benefit that most gets lost in this debate is the very “difficult to measure” more long-term effect of taking every opportunity we have to bring people to Sudbury, to sell the City to folks who often have long engrained perceptions of this Northern Ontario mining town, and are also not prone, in very large numbers, to visit the area simply for the sake of finding out if those perceptions are still accurate or not.

It was this benefit that I was reminded of, once again, while working on an athlete profile recently for a young post secondary student who hails from southwestern Ontario. Already committed to an institution much closer to home, she began to have second thoughts late this past summer, thinking that a move much further away from home would greatly benefit her need to grow as a young adult.

She had no existing ties to Sudbury – no friends that were already here, no high school classmates that would be moving this way in September, no real reason to look at Sudbury as a viable alternative. Nothing, except for the fact that her high school basketball team had played a tournament hosted at Laurentian University a few years earlier.

That visit, her first to Sudbury, created a positive impression, one that would ultimately play a large role, some two to three years later, when the spirit of adventure found her wanting to expand the scope of her world.

One visit for a tournament = one new impression = one future post-secondary student = one potential future Sudbury resident. Maybe I’m missing something here, but a possible permanent resident created from someone who would quite likely not have even considered Sudbury as a destination choice does seem to benefit the local tax base, even if only in some small way.

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