Why City Staff Are Recommending Against a Toronto Expo 2025 Bid
There's a long list of things we should build to go with it, but the numbers don't seem to add up.
For a long time, Toronto has loved the idea of the big event. Whether it’s unsuccessfully bidding for the Olympics (a lot), or hosting the PACHI-endorsed Pan Am Games, the idea is that hosting a world-class event elevates Toronto’s status. Or, at the very least, it gives the City a real deadline to build out the infrastructure we desperately need.
While the mayor rejected bidding for the Olympics last year, Toronto could still go for Expo 2025, which would mark North America’s first time hosting the event since Vancouver ’86.
Expo has some things going for it—the event costs less than the Olympics, and it’s spread over a longer period of time—but there are shortcomings too.
A staff report that will be reviewed by the mayor’s executive committee on Wednesday recommends against pursuing a bid for Expo 2025.
While Expo 2025 could be the biggest Canadian cultural event since Expo ’67, it carries considerable risks.
- There’s no commitment from other orders of government.
A project like Expo 2025 is a massive undertaking, and it requires buy-in and cooperation from all levels. This support would need to be obtained before pursuing a bid in earnest, and there’s a number of obstacles. As the staff report puts it:
As an example, the Government of Canada withdrew its membership in the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), the international organization overseeing World Expos, in 2013 and remains a non-member. BIE rules prioritize bids from member countries over non-members, and until such time as the federal government renews Canada’s membership, Toronto will be unlikely to succeed in a bid to host Expo 2025.
- The City would have to secure $6–7 billion in additional capital funding.
To achieve this, Toronto would most likely require support from other orders of government, but even then it’s a big challenge. After all, Toronto is close to its self-imposed debt ceiling, has an additional $30 billion in unfunded capital projects, and this Council has demonstrated an unwillingness to raise revenue in pace with growth.
- It’s “highly improbable” that we’d complete all the projects we’d need to for Expo 2025.
There’s a lot of worthwhile infrastructure and capital projects that should be funded and completed, but Toronto just hasn’t gotten around to them for various reasons (an unwillingness to fund them being one). That means that the big opportunity for Expo 2025—building out the Port Lands on an expedited schedule—is also a big risk. Building out all of the needed projects in a relatively short period of time is difficult, as projects invariably don’t go as planned, and there’s only so much construction capacity in the city. Here’s what the staff report says:
Staff have been advised and have concluded that it is highly improbable that the many major concurrent construction projects which are critical to hosting Expo—including but not limited to Port Lands Flood Protection, Port Lands servicing, East Bayfront Transit, a new RER Station at the First Gulf Development, the Gardiner East and Lake Shore Boulevard Reconfiguration, and the construction of the Expo site itself—can be successfully completed in time to host the event in 2025. The Feasibility Study relies on a number of major assumptions regarding the construction schedule for these complex projects, and there is a high risk that this schedule cannot be met.
Coming from City staff, that’s really strong language, and it’s saying, “All of this stuff sounds great, but we can’t realistically do it all at once and guarantee the schedule and the budget, so that should be a huge red flag. We warned you, okay?”
You can read the full staff report here [PDF].