Canada Games Council back to the drawing board after Yukon gov't withdraws bid to host

Women's hockey at the Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse in 2007. A bid to bring the games back to Whitehorse in 2027 has been withdrawn. (Canada Games/Scott Grant - image credit)
Women's hockey at the Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse in 2007. A bid to bring the games back to Whitehorse in 2027 has been withdrawn. (Canada Games/Scott Grant - image credit)

The Canada Games Council says it's in an unprecedented position after the Yukon government withdrew the 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 statement, Richard Mostyn, community services minister, said the territory couldn't get the necessary federal funding to go through with hosting the games.

Whitehorse was the only city that had stepped up to host. With no backup plan, the Canada Games Council says it will be racing to find a new host just over four years from when the games are scheduled to begin.

"We typically start a bid evaluation process about seven-and-a-half years out," said Kelly-Ann Paul, president and CEO of the Canada Games Council. "So we're certainly behind the eight ball in terms of number of years to find a new host."

Ambitious bid

Paul said the council was impressed by the bid. She said it included plans to highlight local cultures, and the council was looking forward to bringing the games back to Canada's North.

Canada Games Council
Canada Games Council


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

"The proposal was definitely, you know, a shinier version than what would have been required to host the Canada games," she said. "There could have been other opportunities presented that would have met the Canada Games's standard. But this is the one that met the requirements for the city of Whitehorse and the government of Yukon to grow through this opportunity."

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

Paul said it would have been up to the host and the bid committee to reduce costs. Mostyn said they had taken steps to do that, including reducing the capacity of the ice rink.

"It certainly wasn't a Cadillac ice hockey rink," Mostyn told Yukon Morning host Elyn Jones. "It met the needs of the Games committee. We had to be able to host up to 5,000 people in the arena — we actually got it down to 3,500 people. So we've done a lot of refinements to the design to make sure that was cost effective."

Jane Sponagle/CBC
Jane Sponagle/CBC

The federal government had agreed to kick in $16.75 million, including $3 million in capital funding. That's the standard amount for any small jurisdiction, but the Yukon government said that was only three per cent of what they'd requested.

The City of Whitehorse had also agreed to put forward $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 council started to see that infrastructure money hadn't been confirmed back in August, which raised some concerns. Still, the council felt things would come together after their last visit to the territory.

"It was nonetheless a surprise," Paul said. "But it's definitely been a risk that we've been seeing."

Big request to federal government

Yukon MP Brendan Hanley said the territory had requested a lot of money from the federal government, much more than the maximum amount Sport Canada can typically offer.

"I was a little disappointed in sort of laying it at the feet of the federal government," he told Yukon Morning host Elyn Jones. "You have to think: the Yukon bid included these two, huge infrastructure requests."

Hanley compared Sport Canada's guaranteed contribution of $16.75 million to the one provided for this year's summer games in the Niagara region of Ontario, for which the body pitched in $12 million.

He said the federal government was willing to consider other places they could find federal money for housing and infrastructure, but it wasn't able to make guarantees before the Yukon government's deadline.

"They needed a solid commitment to avoid taking on the risk all by themselves," Hanley said. "But on the other hand, to really ask, essentially, for a cheque for $130 million, or a solid commitment in writing ... it's just not something the federal government can do."

Indigenous games supposed to be featured

Now that the Yukon has withdrawn its bid, the question remains whether these next winter games will feature Indigenous games. The bid to host in Whitehorse included a plan to feature 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 packages for the sports, and was really looking forward to having them included.

"In times of reconciliation and inclusivity, and moving toward a more inclusive sports system, our hope is Indigenous sport will still be included in other locations that would host the games and our submissions would still be used," Marchand said.

Which Indigenous games could be featured depends on where the games are hosted.

"We will have, of course, have a lesser voice not being the host," Marchand said. "Being the host was a really strong position, particularly with the Yukon First Nations support here in the Yukon."

Tracey Bilsky, executive director of Sport Yukon, said many people involved in sport in the territory were disappointed the bid had been withdrawn.

"It's easy to focus on just the expense side of the balance sheet and omit the other side," she said. "The tourism numbers, visibility of your territory, the growth of capacity of people and just the vibrancy of [the] games themselves."