A council committee in Vancouver voted Wednesday 10 to 2 in favour of allowing an Indigenous-led bid for the 2030 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games to proceed to the next step.
Chiefs and council members from the Squamish, Lil'wat, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam nations attended Wednesday's vote, along with representatives from the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic committees. The Indigenous delegation told the standing council that backing their efforts to bring the games back to B.C. was a chance to act on government commitments to reconciliation.
Before Wednesday's vote, Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow invited city council to "get in the canoe with us" as the potential hosts look to secure funding from the province and the federal government.
"We don't take paddling in the canoe lightly," said Tsleil-Waututh Chief Jennifer Thomas. "It's a way of our life. It comes with teachings from our elders."
"I want to strongly say we're a team, and we have to just stick together and do this together," she added.
While the vote allows the bid to continue, concerns were raised in council about finances, the commitment required from city staff and the tight turnaround to submit the bid to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) by next February.
The four Indigenous First Nations announced on Feb. 1 that they had signed an agreement with the City of Vancouver, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee to explore a possible bid.
"This is a day where this either moves ahead, or it doesn't," Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said in an interview. "But I am feeling very good ... that we will be going to the next step."
Kennedy said the next major hurdle is drafting and signing a legal multi-party agreement between the host nations, municipal, provincial and federal governments, and the International and Canadian Olympic committees.
The written agreement would determine who will pay for the games and all associated expenses, such as venue security and building costs, and how each party would be compensated for potential losses.
"We have a very short time period to work out some very significant legal details," said Stewart. "For example, indemnification: if something goes sideways with the Olympics and there are huge cost overruns, who pays for that?"
"And those can only be secured really from the provincial and federal governments. That is why they're key to this multi-party agreement."
The four First Nations have said hosting the event could cost anywhere from $3.5 to $4 billion and depend upon a mix of public and private funds.
Mary Conibear, part of the 2030 Feasibility Team, said the group's proposal involves using many of the same venues from the 2010 Winter Olympics in a bid to be financially and environmentally sustainable.
Province still waiting to make a decision
B.C.'s Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport said in an email that it has been "monitoring the potential bid" and is looking to the First Nations and local governments involved to see how much they're willing to take on in terms of financing and risk management.
The province noted that B.C. was just selected for the 2025 Invictus Games and the 2026 FIFA World Cup and said it's requested more information from the Canadian Olympic Committee on the games' costs, benefits and risks. That report is expected by the end of August.
"But we also need to ensure we have the capacity in terms of funding and resources to host so many large events while also working to address priorities in health care, climate and housing and affordability issues," said the statement.
Spokesperson Corinna Filion said the ministry is looking forward to receiving more detailed information "so we can make a decision that's in the best interest of all British Columbians."