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Opinion: Commonwealth Games aren’t worth it

It’s all fun and games until taxpayers get stuck with the bill.
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It’s all fun and games until taxpayers get stuck with the bill.

Now that Australia tapped out of its bid for the Commonwealth Games, Alberta should sober up and look at the price tag for hosting the global track meet.

Citing skyrocketing costs, the state of Victoria in Australia took a pass on being the venue for sports such as table tennis, cricket and lawn bowling.

The latest estimates to hold the games show the price tag leapt from $2.6 billion to about $7 billion AUS, or about $6.2 billion CAD.

That wasn’t a typo. That works out to about $1,160 for every man, woman and child in the state of Victoria down under.

Crikey, that’s a high jump nobody wants.

Back home in Canada, Hamilton already passed on playing host, after the tab was expected to cost about $500 million.

That leaves Alberta still kicking this idea around, imagining indoor bicycle-racing, squash and judo events being split between Calgary, Edmonton and other communities.

The city and provincial governments are already spending $4 million in taxpayers’ money just thinking about playing host.

Two huge red flags are on the field: affordability for taxpayers and government accountability.

First, Alberta can’t afford to waste money. Every dollar needs to be seriously considered before it is collected from already-drained taxpayers and spent by the government.

Why? Because the province is deep in debt and the basics are increasingly unaffordable. The debt is more than $80 billion and interest payments cost taxpayers about $2.4 billion every year.

The cities of Calgary and Edmonton just raised taxes by 5.5 per cent and 4.9 per cent, respectively.

More than 70 per cent of Albertans say they’re hurting from the Trudeau government’s rising federal interest rate.

Alberta’s food banks are reporting record demand for help, with the emergency food charities increasingly relied upon by working families. That means parents working jobs are relying on donations of jars of peanut butter and canned tuna.

It’s embarrassing that governments are even considering spending millions - or potentially billions – to host a 12-day sporting event.

When it comes to housing and fuel, Alberta is doing better on affordability than much of the country, but that doesn’t mean we can afford to blow it on a global table tennis tournament.

That’s like failing to pay your bills and still buying a trip to Las Vegas since the repo man hasn’t come for your stuff just yet.

Secondly, it’s not government that pays for these games, it’s the taxpayers in Edmonton, Calgary and the rest of the province. At the very least, Albertans deserve a say. Afterall, this isn’t a normal function of government, liking filling potholes or policing the streets. This is a 12-day sporting event.

In 2018, the working people and taxpayers of Calgary voted NO to hosting the Olympics, even though fancy people and politicians really wanted to make them pay for it.

Nowadays, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek says she’s not sure if Calgarians need to vote in a plebiscite before being made to pay to help host the event.

Alberta must hold a province-wide referendum if politicians want to host the Commonwealth Games. This should be the standard going forward.

Fortunately, Premier Danielle Smith told her new Minister of Sport, Joseph Schow, to set up a referendum process when such events are pitched.

In the ministerial mandate letter, Smith tasked Schow with ensuring “future international gaming bids using substantial provincial taxpayer dollars are subject to transparent public disclosure requirements and cost/benefit analysis and include mandatory referenda for affected communities when appropriate.”

That’s a good start.

Governments shouldn’t be wasting taxpayers’ money on a 12-day table tennis and track and field tournament. But at the very least, all Albertans deserve a say before another dime is spent on the Commonwealth Games.

Kris Sims is the Alberta Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.