Toronto's Olympic dreams have been dashed.
The city's economic development committee voted unanimously on Monday to abandon a bid for the 2024 summer games. The five councillors on the Economic Development Committee decided to defer consideration of the issue indefinitely, concluding it wasn't worth trying to land the global sporting event because the cost was too high and the chances of success too slim.
"I'm certainly not prepared to actually mortgage the future of Torontonians," said Councillor Michael Thompson, the committee chair.
According to a city report prepared with help from Ernst & Young consultants, a pre-bid study alone would have cost $1 million, after which up to $60 million would have been required to launch a formal bid.
Thompson said that money would be much better spent on the city's pressing priorities, like housing and public transit. He cited the Pan Am Games, which Toronto will host next year, as proof that the cost of major events can often get out of control. The games were initially budgeted at $1.4 billion, but the pricetag is now expected to be around $2.5 billion.
"I think it's really important to understand the huge amount of challenges that this city is facing," he said. "We can't even repair the some 800 playgrounds we have."
Michael Williams, the city's General Manager for Economic Development and Culture, said that Toronto's Olympic bid would always have been a long shot because the International Olympic Committee has never gone more than 12 years without awarding the games to a European city. London hosted in 2012, and the next two Summer Olympics will be in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and Tokyo in 2020.
"You would expect them to go back to Europe. They've never not done that," Williams said.
In the end there was little support at the committee for the Olympic effort. Bob Richardson, who led Toronto's failed bid to host the 2008 games and was expected to be a big booster for 2024, signed up to speak but never showed up.
But while the Olympic flame won't be lit in Toronto any time soon, a bid for the 2025 World Expo is still alive. The committee voted 3-2 to send a report on that proposal to council next month.
While Public Works chair Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong dismissed the Expo as "the minor leagues" compared to the Olympics, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam argued that that characterization is based on an outmoded view of world fairs.
The 2010 Shanghai World Expo attracted 73 million people, and an estimated 40 to 55 million would attend a Toronto Expo. Wong-Tam said that makes the Expo the "largest global human event in history."
She said that hosting the event in the Port Lands would serve as a catalyst for much-needed projects like waterfront revitalization and transit. And unlike the Olympics, it has been decades since a North American city has hosted a World Expo.
"It is our turn. We have a very good chance of winning it. So it's not a matter of just investing the money into a bid, we can actually bring it home," Wong-Tam said.
The Expo bid has some high-profile supporters, including former Toronto mayor and current Senator Art Eggleton, who spoke at Monday's meeting and urged councillors to "keep the dream alive."
Claire Hopkinson, director and CEO of the Toronto Arts Council, told the committee that an Expo would grow the city's arts sector by "leaps and bounds."
"It's about mapping a larger vision for Toronto, a future where the creative voice and imaginations of Torontonians will help to propel us to the spotlight on the world stage," she said.
But Williams warned that it wouldn't be easy to prepare a successful bid by mid-2016 as required. For one thing, all three levels of government will hold elections in the next two years, making negotiating the necessary funding agreements extremely difficult.
Perhaps more importantly, last month the federal government withdrew from the Bureau Internationale des Expositions, the Paris-based organization that governs World Fairs. Canada would have to rejoin in order for Toronto to be eligible, but shows no sign of doing so.
In 2007, Stephen Harper's government decided not to support Edmonton's bid to mark Canada's 150th anniversary by hosting the 2017 Registered Expo. If Harper wouldn't back a commemorative exhibition in the Conservative heartland, many observers doubt he'll support Toronto's efforts.
"I think right now it's a very tough time to pull a successful bid together for the Expo," Williams said. "I'd love to do it, but I think it's really tough."
The next phase of the Expo bid process would cost roughly $1 million, and a formal bid would run between $10 and 15 million. The bill for actually hosting the event could be up to $3 billion, but costs would be shared between the three governments and private sector sponsors.
Council will debate the bid on February 19, when it's expected to run into stiff opposition from many council members including Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly and Mayor Rob Ford.
On Monday Kelly called the bid "premature," citing other civic priorities.
"There may be a right time but this is not the right time," he said.
Ford told reporters that residents are more concerned with getting subways and other infrastructure projects built. The Expo pitch "should be shelved indefinitely," he said.