(14 July, 2003) - Vancouver is no stranger to world events. The city has hosted
many gatherings of world leaders, royalty, international sports contests and a successful
World's Fair in 1986.
But the positive emotion that greeted the July 2 news
from Prague that the city, and the nearby resort of Whistler, had been awarded the 2010
Winter Olympics, may have been without precedent. Amid the crowds at the NHL hockey arena,
GM Place, gathered that morning to hear the news from Praque, was businessman Klaus
Fuerniss, who had been a key vice-president during the 1986 World's Fair. Fuerniss said:
"There was nothing at Expo to match the feeling in that crowd. It was wonderful to be
there and feel all that positive emotion.
Why the unbridled joy? Why the tears? It's almost 9
years away, and the whole thing lasts just 17 days.
Vancouver, with its spectacular geography and
increasingly impressive, cosmopolitan city. has an image that tends to obscure negative
trends in recent history. While there has been substantial investment in residential
property, more corporate activity has moved out than has moved in. Nearby Calgary, with a
friendlier tax regime, and prosperous oil industry, has become the true hub of dynamic
Western Canadian business activity. Noncompetitive tax levels during most of the 1990s, a
government perceived to be hostile to business and sharp declines in the forest, mining
and fishing resources sectors, achieved for British Columbia a stagnant economy rivalling
the performance of North America's weakest zones, Newfoundland, West Virginia and
Mississippi. Between 1990 and 2000 B.C. dropped from Canada's hottest economy to its
A society that had grown accustomed to winning on most
fronts, has just survived a long dark ages in which losing became a cultural imperative.
A new provincial government took office in 2001, making many corrective measures, and,
while results have been slow in coming, the trends are more positive than they have been
for years. Enter the joy of the Olympics victory.
Norwegian Gerhard Heiberg who had chaired the evaluation
process on behalf of the International Olympic Committee, said after the announcement that
he believed Vancouver-Whistler will deliver the finest Winter Olympics ever.
What is always evident when Canada competes to host international events and in the
delivery of past successes, is that the governments stand 100 per cent behind them. This
helps build confidence in other nations - particularly with respect to world's fairs and
presentations requiring significant investment - that whatever is advertised will happen.
The Prime Minister of Canada, the Premier of British
Columbia and the mayors of both Vancouver and Whistler were in the audience at Prague.
Olympics in Montreal (summer, 1976) and Calgary (winter, 1988) and world's fairs in
Montreal (1967) and Vancouver (1986) were triumphs. Cost overruns at the Montreal Olympics
were entirely absorbed by the hosts, and helped to evolve new guidelines for subsequent
We can only imagine at this stage the crises that await
Vancouver between now and 2010, but the history of world events demonstrates a rocky road
from conception to delivery.
The Salt Lake City games made headlines over corruption
charges, but few remember that the 2002 event had been originally awarded to Denver. This
collapsed amid a funding crisis and Utah was the beneficiary.
Despite sage advice from experienced international hands
that the processes of winning a bid, building and selling the event, and the ultimate
operations require completely different skill sets, few pay attention in the planning. It
is normally true that the incumbents at each stage try to take ownership and irrespective
of their suitability for subsequent needs, never leave unless forcibly removed.
Capital funding is always a challenge and it is normally
true that the politicians in office when the glowing and optimistic promises were made,
are not around when it is time to pay the bills.
Vancouver learned from the experience of the 1986
World's Fair. Between the award by the Bureau of International Expositions in 1978 and
opening day, there were three complete sets of management, various controversial firings,
bitter funding fights among government and near disastrous labour-management disputes. At
one point midway, the Premier of British Columbia delivered an ultimatum that if certain
matters were not positively resolved by a specific date, he would shut it all down.
We survived that and other calamities en route to a
spectacular achievement. British Columbia is eager to tackle the challenge of
* * *
A footnote to this story is the nearby neighbour City of
Seattle, which put the Pacific Northwest on the map with its own World's Fair in 1964 (the
Space Needle is part of the legacy). That success and a smaller event a decade later in
Spokane, encouraged Vancouver in its search for Expo '86.
Seattle, through most of its history, has been a
similarly gifted city. A glorious geography and a foundation laid by the Boeing
Corporation, prospered immeasurably from the more modern growth of Microsoft Corporation
and the high tech revolution it has attracted. Rich, sophisticated and creative (origins
of Starbucks and other corporate innovations), Seattle seemed as if it could do no wrong.
But the "dot com bust" has taken much of the
gas out of the cyber boom and Boeing has consistently downsized, moving, in fact, it's
headquarters to Chicago. There is a current threat that the newest version of the 777 may
not be built in the State of Washington.
Seattle tourist authorities were quick to herald the
successful Vancouver Olympics bid. Not only will neighbours benefit from this world
attention, a Canada-U.S, and Pacific Northwest promotional partnership could be Godsend
for both of these struggling economies.
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