World’s fair makes sense

Edmonton city taxpayers have every right to grumble about the cost of their annual Indy race event. One and a half million dollars is a lot of money to throw in to attract visitors to the city for a long weekend of noisy cars. Last year, it was $5.3 million.

Edmonton city taxpayers have every right to grumble about the cost of their annual Indy race event. One and a half million dollars is a lot of money to throw in to attract visitors to the city for a long weekend of noisy cars. Last year, it was $5.3 million.

No doubt, far more than that was spent by tourists at both years’ events, but not much of it ends up in city coffers, benefiting all taxpayers directly. So some like to gripe about it and that’s entirely fair.

Here’s a way to make all Edmontonians absolutely love the event: tell them Calgary wants to take it away from them.

An international body called the Bureau International des Exposition will decide by December 2012 who will host a world’s fair in 2017.

Apparently, you need permission to do this.

Not too many cities bid on these events anymore; the entry costs get higher all the time and when the last of the trash is cleaned up after the visitors go home, taxpayers are left with a pretty big bill: as much as $3 billion for Expo 2017, by some estimates.

That year happens to be Canada’s 150th anniversary, and for a Canadian city to host a world’s fair — like we did in Montreal for Expo 67 at Canada’s centennial — would be a magnificent opportunity to showcase itself on the world stage.

Edmonton has been preparing a bid to host Expo 2017 since 2007. Last month, out of the blue, Calgary announced it will also apply for the right to represent Canada at the international competitions.

Even the top Alberta cabinet minister connected with a potential bid, Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett, a Calgarian himself, was taken by surprise.

Now, not only does the government have to choose between them in making representations to Heritage Canada, the feds have to pick one city over the other — and that’s if they decide Canada will make a bid at all.

Calgary has some experience in this regard. In 1997, the city made a bid to host Expo 2005, losing to Nagoya, Japan.

Back in 1997, getting that far cost taxpayers about $600 million. Today, the same experience will cost about $1 billion. Schmoozing bureau delegates gets more expensive all the time.

Vancouver’s Expo 86 legacy lasted until just recently, when the last of the housing built for that fair went condo, in time for rental during their Winter Olympics.

Edmonton and Calgary both plan an Expo-lite, only 90 days instead of the full six months, with anything between four million and 20 million guests expected (depending on the world economy, security and how well the fair’s theme is marketed).

Daily attendance has been estimated at about half the gate of the Calgary Stampede, but held for 90 days. The expo is also tabbed to create up to 30,000 jobs.

Many who will come to the expo will also go to see the mountain parks, the badlands, maybe even Red Deer (still time to get those canals built).

Tourism would definitely boom, but taxpayers won’t get a lot from it directly. In Alberta, municipalities can’t apply a tourism tax and we have no provincial sales tax to put on all those souvenirs.

But anyone who’s hosted a big party knows you don’t do these things for an immediate profit. Expo 2017 will make friends for Alberta all over the world and if we go into this, we should do it knowing we’re paying to show other people a really good time.

Alberta will be shaping Canada’s future by 2017, when oil is over $100 a barrel again. The next decades belong to us; we should be able to crow about it.

Edmonton? Calgary? Let’s just do it.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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