On eve of 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland, Halifax's failed bid is recalled

Carl Fleming
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TC MEDIA

March 8, 2007.

It is a date that will long be remembered by many Haligonians.

For it was on that fateful Thursday morning more than seven years ago when, in the wake of spiraling costs, the provincial and municipal governments withdrew their support for Halifax’s bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

The bombshell decision shattered a dream for some, was greeted with euphoria by others and its repercussions can still be felt in the Nova Scotia capital, primarily via the lack of a multi-purpose stadium that a successful Games bid would have addressed.

Halifax’s desire to stage a major international summer sports event actually dated to 2002 when its regional council endorsed a bid to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

It seemed a natural progression for a city that had staged a wildly successful world figure skating championships (1990) and Memorial Cup (2000), and was about to host a world junior hockey championship (2002-03).

But the initial effort was unsuccessful as the Canadian Commonwealth Games selection committee opted for Hamilton, which, in turn, lost out to Delhi, India.

Undaunted, Halifax organizers submitted another proposal in 2005 in order to be considered as potential hosts of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Its persistence initially paid dividends as Halifax was chosen as Canada’s bid city ahead of Ottawa, York Region and Hamilton.

Excitement mounted. No disrespect to the other international finalists – Glasgow, Scotland and Abuja, Nigeria – but there was a feeling that 2014 was Canada’s bid to lose.

It had, after all, been 20 years since Victoria, B.C., had hosted the event whereas another United Kingdom city – Manchester, England, – had hosted as recently as 2006. Abuja, with a limited organizational track record, loomed as a long shot at best.

Yes, Halifax looked like the front-runner.

But in the months after the port city won the Canadian bid questions and concern began to mount, most of which surrounded the overall price tag and secrecy surrounding the international bidding costs.

By early 2007, the local bid committee pegged the Games price tag at a mind-boggling $1.6 billion, a figure deemed too high by the three levels of government – federal, provincial and municipal – and organizers were asked to make reductions of up to $600 million.

Before much progress could be made, however, the province and Halifax municipal council, clearly nervous about the astronomical costs, abruptly pulled the plug.

It was, no doubt, a difficult decision as it meant walking away from a new outdoor stadium, a first-class aquatic facility and much more – improvements that would have well served at least two generations of Nova Scotians.

"If things were affordable, of course we'd want that kind of infrastructure and that kind of event, but I have no regrets of the decision that I made or council made,” then Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly told the Halifax Daily News. “We made the right one."

Added Halifax 2014 CEO Scott Logan in 2007: “Maybe we just weren’t ready as a city for this.”

Bid chairman Fred MacGillivray offered an opposing view, telling the Halifax Daily News the withdrawal was a "severe blow to the province" and "a dark day for Halifax, a dark day for Nova Scotia and a dark day for Canada."

Months later, more than $9.5 million in international bidding costs were revealed, lending more fuel for those who argued that hosting the Commonwealth Games would result in undue financial hardships for the province and its taxpayers.

On Nov. 9, 2007, Glasgow was selected as the 2014 Commonwealth Games host and on July 23 the two-week sporting event gets underway.

It’s estimated price tag? At least $1 billion.

Kelly, who now works in private business, has never second-guessed himself for recommending that the municipality withdraw its support for the Games.

“I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever,” he said, pointing out that the estimated budget for Halifax’s bid did not include security costs. “It was the right decision then, it’s clearly the right thing now and it’s clearly he right thing for the future.”

Kelly added that hosting the Games would have meant Halifax would have been unable to build a new $55-million library, host the 2011 Canada Winter Games and proceed with various capital projects.

“Clearly the Games were not affordable. I have no hesitation in saying that if we did host we would be near financial ruin (today). The taxpayers won out.”

Organizations: Halifax, Commonwealth Games, Canadian Commonwealth Games selection committee Halifax municipal council

Geographic location: Scotland, Canada, Nova Scotia Abuja Delhi India Ottawa York Region Nigeria Victoria United Kingdom Manchester England

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