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Communities split on support for 2010 Winter Olympics



Halls were humming at the annual general meeting of B.C. municipalities this week as community leaders debated the pros and cons of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

As the meeting wore on it became apparent that a north-south rift was occurring as northern communities began to ask what was in it for them to support the bid for the Games.

"I think it will definitely make a difference to urban British Columbia but I don’t see any benefits to us," said Mary Glassford of the Cariboo Regional District.

She voiced her concerns during a forum on the 2010 Games at the annual general meeting of the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

"I don’t think there was one of us at our board who doesn’t feel the Olympics are good because they are," she said outside the forum.

"But I think we need to be shown at the end of the day that to develop the Sea to Sky Highway won’t take away from the issues that are faced in Northern British Columbia or our region."

The Cariboo, like areas across the province, is facing school closures, cutbacks at hospitals and general funding shortages.

The Cariboo Regional District Board is so concerned it took the unprecedented step of passing a resolution saying they were not in favour of the Games.

"We will be sending a letter to the premier outlining this," said Glassford, who admits she is saddened by the move, as she is a great supporter of the Games.

"It wasn’t an easy decision for any of us to make," she said. "But I really have reservations about whether it will help northern B.C."

"It seems that somehow in the whole economics of the province rural and northern British Columbia get left out of the equation yet we are the engine of the province as far as resources and what they contribute to the revenue of this province.

"I think it is time that people recognize the fact that we are the drivers of this province."

The Cariboo is not alone in its concerns.

"The concern in my area is that all the money is going to development of infrastructure for the Olympics at the expense of developing infrastructure up in our area," said Val George of Terrace.

"We have roads with potholes in them and we have fairly major access roads that are still unpaved.

"We so see that (the Olympics) will hold back development of our infrastructure for many, many years."

Grumblings were even heard about why money should be spent on highway upgrades to "wealthy" Whistler.

But Mayor Hugh O’Reilly was quick to point out that Whistler sends a million dollars a day to the provincial and federal governments.

"We provide tremendous funds to provincial and federal governments on an annual basis and there has been very little return in our community," he said.

"I am sympathetic to the (northern) story because I think we have the same one."

He is also concerned that failing to improve the infrastructure along the Sea to Sky corridor will in the long run compromise Whistler, which is responsible for a billion dollars of tourism revenue every year.

"Some of that is at risk if we can’t sustain the infrastructure," said O’Reilly.

"It is an extremely competitive market."

He believes the spin-offs to B.C. from hosting the Olympics will compensate the province for the investments made in specific areas.

"The government hopes the Olympics is the catalyst that draws world investment and attention to the province," he said.

"The provincial plan is to help the other parts of the province to be able to fund new infrastructure for schools and hospitals and other needs as a result of that investment.

"There are a lot of great opportunities here.

"I think the premier has to get out and communicate to the northern communities that they are not being forgotten and they are well recognized as deserving of funding, just as we are."

Not all mayors "north of Hope" are concerned about the Olympics.

John Ranta, mayor of Cache Creek, believes many people support the Games.

"I think there is an awful lot of debate about whether the Olympics will ultimately generate a benefit," he said.

"Hopefully we have sharp enough people in the provincial government managing the Olympic Bid in British Columbia that they will at least be able to balance the books on it.

"I am optimistic that it would be a great event for the province and it would profile the province not unlike the way Expo 86 did, and I think that would be a significant benefit for the area.

"Generally speaking most of the people that I speak to would love to see an Olympics, they just don’t want to see a big whack of money spent to get them here."

UBCM President Hans Cunningham, of the Central Kootenay regional district, hopes more information about the Games will help northern communities realize the Games also present an economic opportunity for them.

"I understand that there are some people who are not in favour of the Olympic bid who feel the money spent would not do anything for them or their communities," said Cunningham.

"If we all hear the facts we will be able to make our minds up in a much better way."

The Olympic Bid Committee is planning to launch a new initiative, Planning for Gold, to investigate what opportunities are available for businesses and sector industries throughout the province next month.

"Anything that British Columbia can do to enhance B.C.’s reputation world-wide in theory will generate economic benefits for that particular region," said Bid spokesman Sam Corea.

"It is not surprising that around the province… there may be people wondering how can something several hundred kilometres away benefit me?

"Well we are arguing that there is opportunity and so we have to look at those opportunities and ensure that B.C. benefits."