Yukon leaders scoff at federal fund offer for Canada Games, question future projects

The 2007 Canada Winter Games were held in Whitehorse. The bid to host the 2027 games was an attempt to bring the event back to the city. (Scott Grant/Canada Games - image credit)
The 2007 Canada Winter Games were held in Whitehorse. The bid to host the 2027 games was an attempt to bring the event back to the city. (Scott Grant/Canada Games - image credit)

There's more than just a bit of disappointment coming from some Yukon leaders after the announcement that the Canada Games bid is being turfed.

On Monday, the Yukon government said it was pulling the plug on its bid to host the 2027 Canada Winter Games, saying the federal government won't offer enough funds to make it possible. Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn said Ottawa offered $16.75 million, including $3 million in capital costs. Meanwhile, the estimated price tag to host the games in Yukon was estimated around $185 million, most of which would pay for new infrastructure.

Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon and head of the Yukon NDP Kate White both say they worry about the territorial government's ability to make good on promises that rely on federal funds.

"We start to worry again about other large infrastructure asks that the Yukon government has before the federal government … the Atlin hydro project, the Moon Lake project, the Dawson [recreation] centre — these are all projects that will require significant investment from the federal government," Dixon said.

"In the context of the Canada Games, essentially the rejection by the federal government to fund that, it certainly raises concerns about other projects as well."

White pointed to a statement from the Yukon government earlier this year which she says made it seem like the $160 million needed from the Canadian government "was a done deal."

"So what does that mean for other projects?" White said. "That's really what's unclear at this point."

Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada
Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada

The bid to host the 2027 games in Whitehorse was launched a little over a year ago. It was an attempt to bring the major event back to the city 20 years after the last time, in 2007.

The bid launch included representatives from the Yukon government, the City of Whitehorse, the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Council of Yukon First Nations, all voicing support.

In a statement, Yukon MP Brendan Hanley said he was "surprised and saddened" by the Yukon Government's decision to pull the bid.

He said aside from the $16.75 million, the federal government had committed to work with the Yukon Government to find resources to finance the Canada Winter Games.

"I know that federal ministers and departments were committed to continuing to work hard to find direct and indirect funding supports for the components of the Games," he wrote.

'Slap in the face to Yukoners'

Dixon did say, however, that given the federal government's offer, he thinks the Yukon government made the right choice in pulling the bid.

"If that's the funding that's on offer from the federal government, then there's no question that they made the right decision to cancel," he said. "It's totally unsustainable to host these games without substantial federal support."

He added he has questions about the "nature of the bid" but added that was a separate issue.

"Could the Yukon have reduced the amount of spending? Possibly, but not down to $3 million in capital."

Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada
Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada

He said the amount offered by the federal government was a "slap in the face to Yukoners" from the federal government.

"[It's] almost insulting, quite frankly, because that's less than half of what they offered in 2007, you know, 15 years ago," he said.

"That really raises the question of, does the federal government care about the Yukon? And does it care about … northern territories hosting these games? And at this point, it certainly looks like they don't care about that."

Mostyn said he was notified of the funding offer from the federal government for the games bid last week.

"It's certainly disappointing, from my perspective, and our government's perspective, that we weren't able to proceed with the bid," he said, but added the feds offer is "just not enough."

Mostyn said he understands the federal government's perspective. "I know, it was a hard decision for us not to proceed with the games, I have no doubt that it was a very hard decision for the federal government not to be able to fund this for us to the extent that we'd asked," he said.

When it comes to concerns of getting funds for other projects, Mostyn said he's not worried.

"Fear is the mind killer," he said.

Mostyn said the federal government has contributed "immense amounts of infrastructure money" to the territory over the last six years calling the amounts "record" investments.

"They've certainly been very supportive. But we're in a new era now in the country and in the world, really. And I think all nations are struggling to deal with them," he said, referring to the economic recovery of COVID-19 spending.

No expectations from bid committee

Piers McDonald, the chair of the Canada Winter Games bid committee, said the committee made it clear from the beginning that building new facilities would be costly.

"I'm disappointed, naturally enough. I think a lot of people put a lot of work into putting together a bid that would have been impressive," he said.

"In the end, of course, it's up to host to decide whether or not if they can afford the facility. I think the Yukon government made it clear that they couldn't do it on their own."

McDonald said the bid committee, which had been working on a plan for the past 18 months, didn't have any expectations when it came to the amounts coming from the governments.

"Our job was simply to ensure that the best possible bid with the right features to it was put forward that recognized the Canada Games standards," he said.

"That's what the bid committee did. It was up to the governments and they have some tough decisions to make."