Province has no money for a Hamilton 2026 Commonwealth Games bid, says local PC MPP

‘If there is no money and no appetite, let’s stop it,’ Donna Skelly says of the 2026 bid

Donna Skelly, PC MPP for Flamborough-Glanbrook, says the province can only support a bid for 2027 and beyond.

A Hamilton PC MPP says the province has no money to contribute to a 2026 Commonwealth Games, although it’s not clear what that means for the future of the local bid.

Donna Skelly, PC MPP for Flamborough-Glanbrook, says the province is already focused on a 2026 FIFA World Cup bid, so it can’t support a Hamilton Commonwealth Games bid until 2027 or later. Her government supported, in principle, a 2030 games bid, she said. But the idea of a 2026 bid came as a surprise.

Skelly says she met with bid representatives last week and told them this. She also asked for more detailed numbers around what would be required to host the games.

“If it’s 2027, or 2030, fine,” Skelly said. “But let’s not mislead people or suggest there’s an opportunity to move forward for 2026.”

“If there is no money and no appetite, let’s stop it.”

Skelly made the comments on the eve of what would have been another bid committee presentation to Hamilton city councillors. The request to speak to city council’s general issues committee was withdrawn on Monday.

The idea first came to city council in 2017 as a proposed 2030 bid. Hamilton hosted the first Commonwealth Games, initially called the British Empire Games, in 1930 as the brainchild of a Hamilton Spectator sports editor, M.M. “Bobby” Robinson.

Hamilton has bid unsuccessfully on the games three times since then — in 1994, 2010 and 2014. Earlier this year, the international Commonwealth Games Federation asked the Hamilton bid team to consider 2026 instead, saying the bid wouldn’t be challenged. Then the bid team changed its focus.

FIFA bid is ‘huge’

Ontario hopes to be part of Canada hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and has been working on that for a while, Skelly said. Given COVID-19’s negative impact the province’s economy, she said, there’s no space to work on both bids for the same year.

Skelly said the province asked the Hamilton bid team if it would consider pushing the games back to a 2027 bid instead. And that’s where it sits.

“I want Hamilton to get what it can, trust me,” she said. “But FIFA is a huge event.”

Some local politicians support the 2026 bid, at least in principle. Filomena Tassi, federal minister of labour and Liberal MP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, wrote a Sept. 23 letter in support. Tassi’s office says she’s met with the committee.

“I understand that Hamilton 2026 is heavily focused on collaboration between all three levels of government along with local community support in Southern Ontario and beyond,” Tassi wrote. 

Liberal MP supports bid 

“I appreciate the amazing opportunity that Hamilton 2026 is in being a vehicle towards local and regional economic recovery and growth, while addressing local social and economic challenges. The Hamilton 2026 Games align well with many of the commitments and aspirations of the Government of Canada and I look forward to consulting with you and other stakeholders in the view to determining how we can advance this compelling vision for our communities with the awarding of the Commonwealth Games in Hamilton in 2026.”

City councillors have mixed views on the games. PJ Mercanti from Carmen’s Group, Graham Cubitt from Indwell, Brian MacPherson from Commonwealth Canada and David Grevemberg from Commonwealth Games Federation presented in August, saying the 11-day event is being paired with a plan for $1 billion in affordable housing through converting athletes villages. But that plan is contingent on money from the provincial and federal governments.

Mercanti also said the games would help Hamilton recover from the economic strains of COVID-19, and provide hundreds of millions in economic uplift for the city and province. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report, produced for the bid committee, shows the cost of operation and venues for the 2026 games would be about $980 million, not including legacy or contingency costs. 

Brad Clark, Ward 9 (upper Stoney Creek) councillor and former provincial cabinet minister, is skeptical about the project, particularly given Skelly’s comments. 

“We have so much on our plate as a municipality,” he said. “If the province of Ontario is not on board, I don’t want to waste any more time, or staff time, assessing financial documents.”

CBC News reached out to the bid committee for comment on Tuesday. The committee chair, Louis Frapporti, deferred comment, saying the committee planned to talk to the province later Tuesday.