June 29, 2011 6:17 pm

Edmonton Expo bid crushed for fear of regional envy: documents

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The government appears to have yanked its support for Edmonton’s bid to host Expo 2017 because of fears the event would have provoked jealousies in Eastern Canada, documents reveal.

The documents also show that the federal officials liked what they saw in Edmonton’s bid, which envisioned the city as the focal point for Canada’s 150th anniversary, before support was withdrawn by the Harper government.

Details of planning discussions by federal officials for Canada’s 150th birthday are revealed in Department of Canadian Heritage documents obtained by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin under the access-to-information law.

Heritage Minister James Moore announced in a November 2010 letter to Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel that the government would not support the city’s bid for Expo 2017.

“Supporting a Canadian bid would require a federal investment of up to $1 billion dollars,” Moore’s spokesman, James Maunder, told Postmedia News. “We carefully reviewed this proposal, and determined that the proposal was too costly and that Canada would not proceed.”

Maunder said Expo 2017 Edmonton would have required as much as $1 billion in investment from the federal government.

But documents – which include the federal government’s evaluation of the Expo proposal – reveal it was not the cost alone that sank the bid, but the possibility other provinces would make similar billion-dollar demands.

“An anchor in Western Canada could lead to a request for a large-scale expenditure in Eastern Canada,” planning documents warn.

The planning documents refer frequently to the success of Expo 67 Montreal, and how Canadians flocked to the city that was the centre of celebrations marking Canada’s centennial. Officials think “the idea of going somewhere to celebrate” was what helped build excitement about the centennial.

“Without that, how can we create that feeling?” the notes of a brainstorming meeting of bureaucrats in October 2010 read. “Do we need a focal point or event?”

The team behind the Edmonton bid wanted Alberta’s capital to be just that focal point.

“The proposal centres its program plan around Canada Day activities as the focus of national celebrations for the 150th,” an Expo 2017 Edmonton bid document says.

“National cultural institutions such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Telefilm Canada, the National Film Board, and the Canada Council for the Arts will no doubt wish to establish major initiatives in connection with Canada’s 150th Anniversary,” the document says.

Documents also reveal that federal officials were pleased with Edmonton’s Expo bid, and expressed support to push ahead with the race for the World’s Fair.

“The internal review conducted by Canadian Heritage has shown the Expo 2017 Edmonton Bid Proposal to be solid, comprehensive and professional,”say records of a preliminary review by the Canadian Heritage department.

But the proposed theme for the event – energy – was deemed to be “risky,” due to “recent international media coverage of Canada’s environmental/energy policies in general, and the oil sands in particular.”

NDP MP Linda Duncan – the only non-Tory MP elected in Edmonton – said she was disappointed the government decided against supporting Edmonton’s bid for the World’s Fair. She said it was strange that the federal government asked cities to mount costly bidding campaigns, only to pull out their support at the last minute.

“It would have been brilliant,” she said. “Who knows why they really turned it down. They’re pretending to be fiscally responsible.”

Duncan said she travelled to Montreal in 1967 with her family to visit Expo 67 and celebrate Canada’s centennial. She said she regretted that Edmonton wouldn’t have a similar chance to shine before the eyes of the world.

Astana, Kazakhstan and Liege, Belgium have already submitted bids to host the 2017 World’s Fair, while Sydney, Australia, Lille, France, Belgrade, Serbia and Stavanger, Norway may do do the same.

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