Expo bid died too early

Made in Alberta. Held in Edmonton. Canada welcoming the world. Edmonton’s Expo 2017 bid committee envisioned the world’s fair introducing the New West on Canada’s 150th anniversary.

Made in Alberta. Held in Edmonton. Canada welcoming the world.

Edmonton’s Expo 2017 bid committee envisioned the world’s fair introducing the New West on Canada’s 150th anniversary. The milestone event would highlight how far the country had come since Expo 67 in Montreal. Its theme, Energy and Our Planet, would showcase our commitment to addressing energy innovation and sustainability.

The committee projected Expo would generate at least $120 million in revenue, boost community spirit to unprecedented heights and position Edmonton, Alberta and Canada on the international stage as leaders in energy and sustainability.

Albertans were onboard. A November 2010 survey found that 79 per cent of us supported hosting Expo.

Even the Government of Canada encouraged the bid. And why not? The government, which has shown little interest in taking a leadership role on the world stage of late, couldn’t ask for a better forum to promote this country’s achievements: energy, environmental or otherwise.

But that stage, and the revenue and international prestige that come with it, will go to either Liège, Belgium, or Astana, Kazakhstan, the other two cities that declared their intent to bid for Expo 2017.

Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore announced last week the Government of Canada would not support Edmonton’s bid.

In rejecting the bid, the federal government said it had learned its lesson after picking up the billion-dollar security tabs for the G8 and G20 summits and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Expo was still six years away, but the future cost of security for a 90-day event being held so close to the oilsands was already too high, Edmonton-area MP Rona Ambrose informed an angry Mayor Stephen Mandel.

Despite its early enthusiasm, the government’s decision to opt out effectively killed the bid before it could be submitted to the International Bureau of Expositions for consideration.

The government’s plea for fiscal prudence is cold comfort to a province emerging from recession when it has shown so little of its own. Earlier this year, Ottawa spared no expense on security for world leaders attending the G8 and G20 summits, which failed to resonate with Canadians and left little in the way of a legacy.

Given how little the leaders appeared to have accomplished over the three days, a conference call would have sufficed.

The billion the government spent on security for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver was a bargain in comparison.

Since then, the government opened the door to funding sports arenas to lure NHL teams north of the border, that is, Quebec, only to slam it shut, again citing the need for austerity in the current fiscal situation.

This type of behaviour only adds fuel to the belief held by Mandel and others that the Tories, like the Liberals before them, have no interest in the West. The merits of a project or event is only proportional to its political capital in Ontario or Quebec.

Hosting Expo is not without financial risk. Both Expo 67 in Montreal and Expo 86 in Vancouver posted sizeable deficits.

In terms of exposure, however, it was money well-spent.

Expo 67, which drew more than 50 million people, was hailed as the most staggering Canadian achievement.

Expo 86 attracted 22.1 million visitors, boosting Vancouver’s profile.

Both left behind sizable legacies in terms of infrastructure and community spirit.

Edmonton’s bid committee had hoped the world would discuss new ways to use, produce and save energy at Expo 2017.

The federal government’s short-sighted decision to reject Edmonton’s bid out-of-hand has denied the city, the province and the country the legacy that would emerge from that discussion.

In a province that is inextricably linked to energy, that legacy would be priceless.

Cameron Kennedy is and Advocate editor.

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