Statement made on 02 December 2010 by Senator Tommy Banks (retired)
Hon. Tommy Banks:
Honourable senators, this is a case of striking while the iron is hot, and it is hot.
Honourable senators, this is an inquiry into a government decision that can be accurately described as nothing less than a blatant betrayal. The Prime Minister, the government and the Heritage Minister have slapped Edmontonians and Albertans in their collective face with an insult, an insult that will be a long time used in political science classes in Alberta as an example of how regional political loyalty is so often repaid with absolutely nothing.
The event to which I refer is the death sentence the federal government delivered last week to the hopes, dreams and collective vision of hundreds of thousands of Edmontonians and Albertans when it announced that it had decided not to back Edmonton's bid for the 2017 Expo, a bid which might have brought that prestigious event to our country during our one-hundred-and-fiftieth national birthday celebrations.
In order that honourable senators fully understand what has led to the emotional outpouring in my city, allow me to provide a little background against which one can measure the cynicism of the government's decision.
From its very beginnings in 1795, Edmonton has been one city in which vision, self-confidence, a strong sense of community and plenty of plain old hard work came together and paid off. Our entire history has been one of that community, vision and hard work.
Visionaries in Edmonton saw the enormous strength that our city has in volunteerism and channelled it into securing major national, continental and global events for Edmonton, events that demonstrate our self-confidence and established our competence on a much larger stage. Through the work of these visionaries, we have hosted the British Commonwealth Games, World University Games, the World Championships in Athletics, the World Masters Games and many more sports and other kinds of events and other life pursuits. Each time, honourable senators, we were left with no debt, and each time we were left with a substantial legacy.
A little more than two years ago, it was such a group of community visionaries that came together in Edmonton and committed to go after yet another global event, Expo 2017, They chose a theme that is particularly suited to Alberta, namely "Energy in Our Time." Where else would such a theme make so much sense?
The bid committee envisioned the construction of nearly $1 billion worth of national and corporate pavilions, buildings that would be converted to university use as only one aspect of the fair's legacy. The academic, scientific and industrial dialogues that would have occurred would have lasted for decades. It would have set new standards for environmental sustainability. A $100 million dollar legacy fund would have provided theme-related educational programs and scholarships at universities all over the world for many years to come.
It would have provided a global focus for the beginning of a decade-long global conversation about what Senator Segal has just spoken to us about, the environmental sustainability of our massive oil sands deposits — an industry that benefits all of Canada and whose production results in huge royalties paid directly to the Government of Canada.
All told, the bid organizing committee projected it would be staged for $2.3 billion in 2017 accelerated dollars. The committee looked first to the Province of Alberta and then to the Government of Canada for help in that funding. Edmonton became the Canadian bid city. We were it. The province's premier needed no convincing. He saw the benefits to Albertans of the event and of its theme. The province made a financial commitment that would make it the largest contributor to the funding of the fair, which left the Government of Canada's participation as the next and most critical building block in the march towards a successful bid.
Earlier, the committee had been thrilled, when in April of 2009 the federal Heritage Minister wrote a letter urging competitive bids for Expo 2017. The letter stated that "to meet the deadline (of spring, 2011) and take advantage of upcoming opportunities to promote Canada's candidacy, the process to select a city as Canada's candidate must begin now."
It also stated the following:
International expositions play an important role in providing a forum for intercultural encounters. They are also a wonderful venue to showcase our country's rich heritage, cultural and natural diversity and our achievements to the world.
Mr. Moore's letter acknowledged that 2017 was Canada's one-hundred-and-fiftieth birthday and connected that fact with a pitch to the value of our country of hosting an Expo. The minister could not have delivered a clearer challenge, a clearer message: "Go head," he said. "Think big. Create a good bid, and Canada will back you."
Well, as I described, Edmonton did put together a bid. It contacted the federal government and, all through that early process, every time that members of the bid organizing committee met with federal and provincial government officials, they got positive response and further encouragement. Every indication said that it was clear sailing.
However, when dollars and bottom lines became apparent to each of the governments, we got two different reactions.
From the province — a province that, by the way, was facing its own unexpected multi-billion dollar deficit problems — we got a big thumbs-up. Premier Stelmach and his government still believed in the future, and he knew that his financial position would be better in eight years than it was in 2009.
From the federal government, it is hard to say what we got. What we did not get was any kind of normal response, because all we got essentially was silence. No one on the federal side said, "Wait a minute. You want a bunch of money from us, but we cannot afford that much." No one asked questions. No one suggested taking a second hard look. No one said, "Let us look at our options together and see if we can figure out another way." I am told that from the very day that Expo's business plan landed in Ottawa, no one from the federal government, at any level, discussed or debated the bid committee's proposed contribution breakdown.
No one said it was wrong. No one said it was inflated. No one said it was unreasonable, so the bid committee continued its work. They continued spending its money, resources and the time of all the volunteers, because no one at the federal level ever said, "Hold on. We have a problem here." Until last week, that is, and even then what we got was not a discussion. What we got was an axe.
Honourable senators, the Expo bid organizing committee's business plan called for a meaningful contribution from the feds, but let us be absolutely clear about when the federal contribution was to be made. It was back-loaded. In the next few years, it was very small. It would increase a little towards 2014 and 2015, but by far, the majority of the federal contribution was needed after 2015, the year when the Prime Minister tells us we will have achieved elimination of the deficit. By the way, the years with the largest federal contributions would have come after its commitment to the 2015 Toronto Pan Am games, so the cash flow would not be a problem.
As an aside, I must point out that the government came up easily with $500 million to cover a commitment to the three-week long Pan Am Games, despite the fact that most of that money will have to be spent before the government's 2015 zero-deficit deadline.
Maybe the government is now telling us that they will not be able to wrestle the deficit down by 2015.
It is painfully clear that the fiscal capability issue raised by the Heritage Minister and the Edmonton regional minister is blown to smithereens by plain, simple obvious facts. The deficit argument, "we can't afford it," for leaving Edmonton high and dry is simply a political ruse, a smokescreen, a slick talking-point diversion designed for 10-second media clips.
The Heritage Minister and his echo, Minister Ambrose, said they fear that extra security costs caused by even a low-threat security event during Expo 2017 could send federal costs towards the billion-dollar mark — 100 times more than the budget agreed to by all the players. Last week, I said it was 1,000 times more. I was wrong. Arithmetic is not my strong suit. It is only 100 times more. My apologies. It is 100 times more than the budget agreed to by all the players — federal, provincial and municipal.
Expo is hardly a G20 summit. Anyone in the security business knows that Expos are on a much lower threat level than a G20 summit. This Expo would have been held on a single site, located in what is probably Canada's most securable piece of relatively central urban land, surrounded on all sides by wide fields and by a ravine, unlike the Pan Am Games, which will be held at venues scattered all through Toronto and are expected to cost the federal government close to $1 billion for security. Edmonton's cost would have been minimal.
In fact, a little less than three weeks ago, as I mentioned to honourable senators last week in my question to the government leader — and, this was before the Heritage Minister threw up this brick wall — bid organizing officials organized a two-day local, provincial and federal police and security agencies meeting, all of whom would have had responsibility for security at the event. Those experts, municipal, provincial and federal, walked through the site and they flew over the site in a helicopter. All agreed, in the end, that the $91 million in escalated 2017 dollars that had been budgeted for security was realistic.
Honourable senators, the federal government was being asked to support only $11 million — $10.9 million, to be exact — of that security budget as part of its overall commitment. That is a touch over 10 per cent of the overall security budget, or 0.6 per cent of Expo 2017's total cost. That is a long way from the $1 billion bogeyman budget that the Minister of Heritage and Ms. Ambrose were throwing in the media's face when the government turfed Edmonton's bid. The second major argument for not supporting Edmonton's bid was also a flack screen — a reason that exposes a political arrogance of colossal proportions.
Honourable senators, the Prime Minister began his long political ride to 24 Sussex Drive by echoing the clarion call that Alberta and the West want in. He and many other Albertans repeated over and over that, through the decades, Alberta had paid into Confederation many billions of dollars more than they had received back from federal government, and that is true. What goes around comes around, though, because when in past times Alberta needed help, it sometimes came from other parts of Canada. However, in more recent times, Alberta has more than paid that back and in spades. These days, Alberta is, in many respects, keeping Canada afloat.
Alberta has also been extremely loyal in continually sending MPs to Ottawa who support this Prime Minister and who supported his predecessors from both sides of the present Conservative coalition. However, the Prime Minister said in a newspaper interview that those elected MPs, the Conservative caucus, were clear in their view that not funding Edmonton's bid was the right move — so much for having a seat at the table. The government encouraged the city to bid. They reacted positively, giving the bid organizing committee every reason to anticipate some help. Right down to the wire, they led the city on.
Honourable senators, there are ways in which governments deal with each other; ways in which a government can appropriately signal its concern over budgets and security costs. There are ways in which and times at which a government can say "No," or "Yes, but not that much." However, not a hint of those ways, not a single signal or budgetary or security concern was expressed or given to the bid organizing committee. There were no negotiations, no discussions, nothing.
An Hon. Senator: Shame.
Senator Banks: Honourable senators, I have been wracking my brain trying to make logical sense and political sense of the government's decision and the way in which it delivered its decision.
Logically, as I have, I hope, convinced you, the denial does not make any sense. The budget deficit argument is phoney. The real meat and potatoes of the federal contribution would not start until after the government wrestles the deficit to zero. The province was kicking in significantly more than the feds were being asked for, and Edmonton has an unbroken, unsullied, pristine record of delivering these kinds of events on time, on budget and leaving a legacy behind — not debt, legacy.
Honourable senators, the security argument is also a smokescreen. The site is uncommonly securable. All the experts say that the security can be done for $91 million 2017 dollars, of which the government was asked for $10.9 million. The Conservative government seems to have found no problem providing a far more expensive G20-type of security for the Pan Am Games, which we want. It is not a mug's game. I am not playing that mug's game argument of odious comparisons. I am simply pointing out that the security landscape for an international multi-venued, multi-sited athletic competition is a big apple, and an Expo 2017 level fair is a little orange. Logic does not point to the government's motivation. The answer, therefore, must lie in politics. The government must be politically misguided.
The only sense that I can make out of the government's decision is that the Prime Minister is yet again playing wedge politics. With even the slimmest political majority in his sights, the Prime Minister has shown many times over that he is willing to fly in the face of fact, science, logic and even, sometimes, of widespread condemnation and ridicule to show a narrow band of right-wing, single-issue guys that he is their guy. Now he has done it again. The only political logic I can see in the government's decision is that the Prime Minister is hoping that those bunch of hard right, government hating, tax hating, kill the deficit come hell or high water voters will throw their next vote to him.
The betrayal that Edmontonians and Alberta has experienced from their Prime Minister, from their regional minister, from most of their MPs, I guess, and from rest of the federal government is the very same kind of betrayal that the former Reform Party and its successor were initially dedicated to eradicate, except this time, honourable senators, the betrayal is not the betrayal of the West by the minions of the Central Canadian Golden Triangle; this time it is the betrayal of the West by their own. That is, by the Prime Minister, by the Minister of Canadian Heritage, by the regional political minister — Westerners all. In betraying Edmonton's bid, northern Alberta's bid, Canada's bid for Expo, he was laying odds that he could win more support for his decision elsewhere in Canada than he would lose in Alberta. That is how wedges work, senators. Here a wedge, there a wedge, everywhere a wedge-wedge. Pretty soon, all those little wedges are supposed to add up to just enough support to get you over the top. The only problem with wedge politics is that people get hurt.
In this case, however, the people who got hurt were those who had been very loyal to the people who did the hurting.
I cannot help but point out that under the previous government, honourable senators, the Edmonton minister, Anne McLellan, showed what it actually meant to have a seat at the table. Some current Alberta members of the House of Commons with seats at the table may have worked hard to support the Edmonton bid, but the result speaks for itself. In Anne McLellan's day, the support of Edmontonians was not taken for granted. She did not always say yes, but she knew when and how to say no. There are ways to say no. There are times to say no. There are times during a process to say, "Stop. Wait a minute. We have to talk about this." Senators, the way this was done was not the time and this was not the way.