Robertson puts pressure on Campbell
Published Wednesday, January 14, 2009 7:47AM PST
The temperature is rising for politicians trying to deal with the funding crunch of Vancouver's Millennium Waters project and the 2010 Olympics Athletes Village.
But despite this, on Tuesday the provincial government gave assurances that the project will go ahead, regardless of expected fireworks in the legislature.
And work continued at the site of the village as the city sought special permission from the province to borrow more than $450-million.
A special open council meeting was held on Monday to show the public exactly how dire the situation is, by confirming that Vancouver needs to find $458-million to ensure the village is finished in time by the time it is needed in February 2010. That is more money that the city is normally allowed to borrow without first holding a referendum, so it has asked the province for a one-time exemption to that rule.
Speaking at a new homeless shelter, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson reiterated the point.
"The situation is very urgent. We do need borrowing authority from the province to move ahead," he said.
Because of this, Robertson said the Liberals needed to bring back the legislature earlier than next month, when it was originally due to reopen.
"Every day that goes by is a challenge for us, and if the province can get the government back in Victoria to move forward on this borrowing authority, it gives us a very important tool on negotiating and ensuring the project stays on track," he said.
B.C.'s minister of community development, Blair Lekstrom, said they were moving as quickly as they could.
"We understand the urgency of it, and we are looking at legislation right now and seeing how quickly we can move on this. The goal for all of us is to make sure we can work together," said Lekstrom.
But the opposition NDP is not happy.
"I'm very concerned. You know the taxpayers are on the hook already and this government has been keeping the information secret," said Carole James. "The premier continues to say that the Olympics are on budget? Not a British Columbian I know believes that."
The rhetoric looks due to continue for some time with the no clear answer yet about whether the city will be allowed to finish the job.
With only a few months to go before a spring provincial election, such a controversial decision could not come at a more sensitive time for Premier Gordon Campbell.
In June of 2006, both Campbell and his finance minister Colin Hansen said the 2010 Olympics would cost $600-million.
"The cost of the Olympics is 600 million bucks... that's what the fact of the matter is," said Campbell at the time.
But in December, B.C.'s auditor general John Doyle begged to differ, saying the province had failed to acknowledge $170-million in additional Olympic costs.
He stated: "The full cost of staging the Games should include a number of items that are not included in the official budget... the risks associated with some costs and revenues have not been adequately disclosed."
Doyle concluded that if those risks materialize "the cost of the Games could escalate considerably."
- Olympic venues were, for the most part, built on time, but not on budget. At $580-million, construction costs are $110 million over the original target.
- The Olympic security budget, originally set at $175 million could end up being between $400-million and $1-billion.
- The expanded conventions centre, which will act as the 2010 media facility - at $880-million are almost twice the original budget.
- The billion dollar Canada Line.
- The Sea to Sky highway upgrade at $800-million, compared with $600-million.
- The upgrade to B.C. Place stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies will be held.
- And now the Athletes Village.
While the B.C. government and others do not consider many of these actual "Olympic" projects, they are definitely being driven by an unmoveable Olympic deadline. It's also why many believe at least some of the costs should be defined as Olympic
"Well, I won't stand here and tell you we haven't had questions... We have had questions but I believe and this is just my sense of it that there's a high degree of confidence in Canadians to get this done. I mean I think it's a challenge," said VANOC's CEO John Furlong.
Meanwhile, Standard & Poor, the bond rating group, posted a warning Tuesday about Vancouver's AA-plus credit rating. The agency put the city on credit watch, which means it could face higher borrowing costs if it does proceed to seek a loan to complete the Athletes Village.
With reports from CTV British Columbia's Stephen Smart, Jim Beatty and Shannon Paterson.