What Could You Buy With An Olympic-Sized Cheque?
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What Could You Buy With An Olympic-Sized Cheque?

We go on a city building Supermarket Sweep using the estimated money the Toronto Olympics would cost.

With the Pan Am and Parapan Games over and Pachi put out to pasture, talk has turned to Toronto hosting the 2024 Olympic Games.

If Toronto chooses to pursue an Olympic bid–at this preliminary stage, all it requires is the mayor’s initiative–then it will mark the sixth time the city has tried to bring the summer Olympics to town.

Costs to host the Olympics can vary wildly (Beijing spent over $40 billion in 2008), but a 2013 Ernst and Young report prepared for the City of Toronto estimated the cost would be between $8.7 billion and $17.1 billion (before any cost overruns).

Olympic supporters sometimes claim that the Games gives the host city the motivation to build the infrastructure and services it needs. But this city building is done in the context of what the Olympics needs rather than what the City needs, which creates skewed priorities.

So if we took the midpoint of the Toronto Olympic cost estimates ($12.9 billion), what priorities could we take care of? Shouldn’t we just build the things we need anyway?

  • Fund TCHC capital repair backlog over next 10 years to keep units in good standing ($2.6 billion).
  • Build the Downtown Relief Line from Union to Don Mills (Over $4 billion).
  • Build the full Waterfront LRT ($600—$900 million, depending on alignment).
  • Fund Lower Don flood protection and area improvements, thus unlocking billions in real estate value (Over $900 million).
  • Eliminate the TTC’s unfunded state of good repair backlog [PDF], including 372 subway cars, 201 Wheel Trans buses, 99 new buses, 66 new LRVs, subway and surface track maintenance, meeting the TTC accessibility requirement by the provincially mandated deadline in 2025, and more ($2.3 billion).
  • A $400,000 condo for every homeless person in Toronto ($2 billion).
  • 20 new full-service community centres ($590 million).
  • 20 new libraries ($170 million).

Cost: $13.3 billion.

Of course, Olympic supporters might argue that we’ll never get Federal and Provincial funding for all of these initiatives, however worthy they might be. But that seems less like an argument for the Olympics and more an admission that the political will and revenue for these kinds of projects can’t be built through the City’s existing structures and governance.

If that’s the case, then maybe when we’re talking about the Olympics as a city building need, we’re talking about the wrong thing.