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Ford nixes Toronto’s nascent bid for 2020 Summer Olympics

Mayor Rob Ford has vetoed efforts to land the 2020 Olympics in Toronto out of cost concerns, despite assurances the bid would have come at no cost to city taxpayers.

The mayor's office confirmed Thursday that Mr. Ford nixed a nascent summer Olympic bid that carried the support of Premier Dalton McGuinty and the Canadian Olympic Committee.

"It'd be nice. If it were maybe two, three, four years down the road, it'd be nice," said the mayor's brother, Councillor Doug Ford. "But it's not feasible right now."

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That essentially kills an eight-week, behind-the-scenes effort led by Bob Richardson, head of the Devon Group public relations firm, to assemble broad-based support for an Olympic bid ahead of the International Olympic Committee's Sept. 1 deadline.

An official bid needs the consent of city government and the domestic Olympic committee.

"The city made it pretty clear that they had tough fiscal challenges right now and were not in a position to support it right now," said Mr. Richardson, a key part of Toronto's failed 2008 Olympic bid and winning push for the 2015 Pan-Am Games.

The city's strained finances have become a singular preoccupation of city councillors as they grapple with a $774-million deficit. But Mr. Richardson said that the financial onus would have rested largely on the private sector. The proposal submitted to the mayor's office carried no price tag because the IOC doesn't require a full financial plan until February.

"We viewed the September to February period as the time you do your financial homework and there were all kinds of off-ramps so that if the numbers were too big governments could pull out," he said. "The upfront costs for the first two or three years are minimal. There would be support from the private sector with something from the federal and provincial governments. We would not have been looking for dollars from the taxpayers of the City of Toronto in that short period of time."

Mr. Richardson had quietly assembled support from a wide base of influential Torontonians, including former premiers David Petersen and Mike Harris, businessman Paul Godfrey, Olympian Marnie McBean and conservative radio host John Tory.

"I believe these kinds of bids are well worth exploring," said Mr. Tory, chair of the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance, on his radio show Thursday afternoon. "But the mayor has said no and I kind of understand where he was coming from in terms of his current preoccupation. But he wasn't being asked to sign a cheque now. If he wanted to say no to a cheque later, fine. Maybe he decided it was better if this thing didn't get any momentum up."

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The bridesmaid for 1996 and 2008 Olympic bids, Toronto's chances for 2020 looked promising. Mr. Richardson said the U.S. is not expected to endorse a candidate and that Rio de Janeiro's winning 2016 submission cancelled out chances for another South American city.

"We'd almost be the candidate of the hemisphere," he said. "It was a very, very open race and we thought a strong North American candidate could win."

What's more, the 2015 Pan-Am Games have long been seen as an Olympic audition for Toronto. That event is expected to cost the city nearly $100-million.

"That's something in our favour, the Pan-Am facilities might be adaptable to the Olympics in some cases," said Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday. "But there's still financial risk and cost involved in getting the bid, preparing the bid, and then running the event. In our situation right now, we're not able to proceed and I think it's the wrong time."

Rome, Madrid and Tokyo have announced submissions. Turkey and Qatar are also expected to join the race, according to reports.

The IOC will make its final decision Sept. 7, 2013.

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Crestfallen as he was, Mr. Richardson said he wasn't laying blame on any level of government.

"We had a very short period to talk to governments, it's a very difficult fiscal period of time and we just weren't able to put together the domestic position," he said. "I'm not condemning anybody. It was a good idea, we just ran out of runway."

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About the Author
National reporter

Patrick previously worked in the Globe's Winnipeg bureau, covering the Prairies and Nunavut, and at Toronto City Hall. He is a National Magazine Award recipient and author of the book Mountie In Mukluks. More

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