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Calgary joins list of cities grappling with costs of crumbling Olympic venues

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Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what’s happening around some of the day’s most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • Calgary is latest city to face problems keeping expensive former Olympic venues operating.
  • At Issue tackles the issues fuelling the increasingly heated debate over the future of Alberta’s energy industry.
  • How a Toronto professor’s chance discovery turned into a Grammy-nominated album.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Aging Olympic venues

Last November, Calgarians rejected a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics over fears of spiralling costs.

But now the bills are coming due all the same.

Yesterday, WinSport, the not-for-profit corporation that operates the legacy venues from the 1988 Games, announced that it doesn’t have the money for long-planned renovations to the city’s sliding centre, and might be forced to shutter the bobsleigh, skeleton and luge track come next fall.

The project to replace the refrigeration system and make other needed upgrades had already received $10 million in provincial funding and a promise of a further $7 million from Ottawa. However, WinSport says that won’t be nearly enough, estimating the total costs to be at least $25 million, plus decades of future operating subsidies that currently run at $750,000 a year.

Sport federations had been assured that the project was going to go ahead regardless of the 2026 Games bid, which called for the refurbishment and reuse of the 1988 venues. Now they face months of uncertainty as WinSport tries to pry more money out of the Alberta and federal governments.

A skeleton athlete trains on the 1988 Calgary Olympic track at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary in October 2018. The facility is estimated to need at least $25 million in maintenance work to keep it operating. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Of course, Canada does have another world-class sliding facility in Whistler, a legacy of the 2010 Olympics. Canada’s high-performance sliders already train and compete there as well, so moving the national team programs and world cup races from Alberta to B.C. would be more of an inconvenience than an impossibility.

But the closure of the Calgary venue would severely hamper the kids’ camps and development programs that produce the next generation of athletes, and have helped Canada to eight Olympic medals in bobsleigh and skeleton since 2006.

Nor is it the only post-Games problem that the city is facing.

Two of the three neighbouring ski jumps at Canada Olympic Park, now in a state of terminal disrepair, are scheduled to soon be torn down. The 90-metre tower will survive, but only for use as a zipline launch and to boost cellphone signals.

Several other ’88 venues are also in dire need of renovations, including the speed skating oval — at least $15 million for foundation work and ice plant upgrades — and the cross-country and downhill ski areas in Canmore and Nakiska.

And then there’s the ongoing fight with the Calgary Flames over their desire to replace the aging Saddledome with a new NHL rink, to be largely paid for by the public.

Steam rises from buildings near the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alta. The Calgary Flames want the old stadium replaced with a new NHL rink. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

For all the focus on the cost of hosting an Olympics, relatively little attention gets paid to the price of keeping the venues going after the circus leaves town.

Utah has earmarked $40 million US to keep its 2002 Games sites in good shape as it pursues a possible bid for another Winter Olympics, and now there are calls for a further $15 million in order to attract more international competitions.

Although increasingly, host nations seem to be leaning towards the other choice — just letting stuff fall apart.

A year after the Pyeongchang Games, many of the 2018 venues sit idle. The sliding centre is closed — ironically, South Korean athletes now train in Calgary — and the speed-skating arena is without ice. The hockey arena has been used three times since the games finished, and the figure skating venue has hosted two concerts.

All of which is better than Rio, Athens and Beijing, where many Summer Games facilities have basically been left to rot.

A view from the stands in Rio de Janiero’s derelict Olympic Aquatics stadium in May 2017, less than a year after Brazil’s Games. (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Even the biggest, shiniest Olympic jewels — the cavernous stadiums that host the Opening and Closing ceremonies and track and field — are perpetual white elephants.

London Stadium, now home to the Premier League’s West Ham United, is costing British taxpayers somewhere between $74,000 and $431,000 a game — estimates vary — in a cut-rate lease that runs for 99 years.

And a Harvard Business School study released last fall concluded that most Olympic stadiums are set up to fail, built too big, indebted and ugly to succeed as homes for pro teams or cultural events.

None of which will come as news to Montrealers.

The « Big Owe, » built for the 1976 Summer Games but not paid off until 40 years later, still needs a $250 million replacement roof.

The Olympic Stadium in Montreal, seen here in November 2017, is still waiting for the design of its new $250 million roof to be approved. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Yesterday, the Régie des installations olympiques announced that the work will be pushed back another year as they try to make sure that the new roof will actually work, since two previous versions ripped.

The new lid is scheduled to be in place by 2023, and will hopefully last until the city hosts some FIFA World Cup matches in 2026.


At Issue

Tonight’s At Issue panel tackles the problems fuelling the increasingly heated debate over the future of Alberta’s energy industry, writes Rosemary Barton.

From the low price of Canadian crude, to a lack of pipelines, it’s safe to say Alberta’s economy is facing serious challenges.

This week I travelled to Edmonton as part of our National Conversation series. With the federal election now just eight months away (yes, the countdown clock is on) and a provincial election before that, we wanted to talk about the future of the province and hear from Albertans directly.

And we wanted the provincial government’s perspective, too.

Premier Rachel Notley told me she still believes a pipeline is the best and safest option to move oil to market. But given the current stalemate, she has no choice but to keep looking to railcars (remember she announced the province would be purchasing 7,000 railcars last fall).

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley answers questions from the audience at CBC’s The National Conversation event in Edmonton. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

So is Ottawa doing enough to help Alberta? And should Notley be doing more to stand up to the federal government?

The premier says she is, but many who were in the audience for our event in Edmonton or submitted questions for Notley online felt otherwise.

She says it’s all about explaining to Canadians why they should care about Alberta’s success.

But there are, of course, politics at play here.

I also sat down with Notley’s political rival, United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney, who says Notley’s mistake was focusing her energy on one pipeline to solve the provincial economy’s problems.

Jason Kenney and Rosemary Barton talk Alberta politics over coffee. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Tonight on At Issue, we’ll take this opportunity to talk about Alberta’s economic woes, the political implications, and ask where both the province and the federal government go from here.

Plus whatever else comes our way — a lot can change in a few hours in Canadian politics. Andrew Coyne, Chantal Hébert and Althia Raj will join me for my favourite night of the week.

See you then.

– Rosemary Barton


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Yiddish Glory at the Grammys

Producer Greg Hobbs describes how a Toronto professor’s chance discovery turned into a Grammy-nominated album.

When Yiddish Studies professor Anna Shternshis found herself in the unlikely position of overseeing the production of a musical recording, she discovered that musicians can connect with the past in ways historians might not be able to.

Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II is a Grammy-nominated collection of songs written by Jewish Red Army soldiers, refugees and victims of the Ukrainian ghettos.

University of Toronto Professor Anna Shternshis in her office at the University of Toronto. Her work led to the making of the Grammy-nominated album ‘Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II.’ (Anand Ram/CBC)

The works were discovered by Shternshis during the early 2000s in a box at the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine, while she was working on a project about the decline of Yiddish culture in the Soviet Union. They are unique, in that they were written in Yiddish from the perspective of those battling through one of the darkest periods of the 20th century for Soviet Jews, as they experienced it.

« The rumours that the songs were collected existed, » says Shternshis, who teaches at the University of Toronto. « But scholars believed that this collection was destroyed and never survived the war. »

Some of the documents came with musical notations, others were just lyrics.

Early in the production process, when Shternshis was working with Russian songwriter Psoy Korolenko to put music to the lyrics of a piece called Purim Gifts for Hitler, Korolenko said he wanted to add a line.

« I said to Psoy, ‘this is a terrible idea,' » recounts Shternshis, who was trying to be as authentic as possible to the originals.

Shternshis displays photos she took of lyric sheets of Yiddish songs from the World War II era that were thought to have been lost. (Anand Ram/CBC)

Purim Gifts is a defiant song decrying Hitler’s attempts to defeat the Jews. As the translated lyrics go, « You’re not my first enemy, before you I’ve had many others. »

While first performing the song on behalf of Shternshis at an academic conference, Korolenko insisted on adding a well-known Yiddish and Hebrew saying that translates as, « The Jewish people live on and on. » It was a rousing moment that the audience loved, although it made Shternshis uncomfortable.

To her astonishment, she later discovered an earlier handwritten version of the song in a different section of the Vernadsky Library. In that version, the lyrics ended with the very same line, « The Jewish people live on and on. » It turns out that this is what the original author had intended before Stalin’s censors got their hands on the lyrics.

It was eye-opening for Shternshis.

« Musicians can really get what the other musicians were saying, many years later, better than a historian, » she says.

Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II is nominated for a Grammy in the World Music Category. For more on the collection, watch tonight’s The National on CBC Television and streamed online.

– Greg Hobbs

Juno Award-winning jazz vocalist Sophie Milman performs an anti-fascist song titled Chuvasher Tekher (Daughters of Chuvashia), written during World War II, which is on the Grammy-nominated album Yiddish Glory:


A few words on … 

The passing of one of Parliament Hill’s good guys.


Quote of the moment

« It’s my last name, I’ve always had it. I’m not ashamed of it. There’s nothing bad about it. »

– Melville, Sask., resident Dave Assman (pronounced « Oss-men ») reacts to the government’s rejection of his Seinfeldesque request for a personalized licence plate.

Dave Assman says he’d like a licence plate personalized with his name, because he’s proud of it. (Submitted by Dave Assman)


What The National is reading

  • PMO pressed Wilson-Raybould to abandon prosecution of SNC-Lavalin (Globe and Mail)
  • It’s official: 2018 was the fourth-hottest year on record (NY Times)
  • ‘Torn apart’ by Brexit: Northern Ireland residents fear border could reignite violence (CBC)
  • France recalls Italian ambassador after ‘unfounded attacks’ and « provocations’ (France 24)
  • Calgary teachers’ conference cancels convicted murderer’s presentation (CBC)
  • Brazil’s ex-president Lula convicted in second corruption case (Al Jazeera)
  • U.K. students paid up to £3,500 to catch potentially deadly diseases (Telegraph)
  • Arrow killing ruled a homicide (CBC)
  • 8 hospitalized for burns after trying ‘boiling water challenge’ (Chicago Sun-Times)
  • Bounty hunters had access to U.S. cellphone customer location data for years (Motherboard)

Today in history

Feb. 7, 1997: Keith’s beer becomes available outside the Maritimes

The Halifax-brewed, kind-of India Pale Ale, taps into some expansion money from its Belgian-based parent company to offer drinkers in Ontario and elsewhere an authentic taste of Nova Scotia.

Alexander Keith’s beer becomes available outside the Maritimes. 1:30

Sign up here and have The National Today newsletter delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

Please send your ideas, news tips, rants, and compliments to thenationaltoday@cbc.ca. ​



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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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Anglais

MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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Anglais

Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar is the Latest to Hatch in West Island’s Bubbling Restaurant Scene

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Wings are the thing at the latest restaurant to make its mark on Montreal’s West Island: Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar.

At the buzzy new Dollard-Des Ormeaux eatery, the bird limbs come aplenty, with a menu listing eleven “wet & messy” wings, including smoked apple habanero, sriracha lime, and cherry cola BBQ; and four — cacio e pepe, ketchups chip, Nashville hot, and the garlicky, lemon pepper “vampire slayer” — dry rub flavours. They come 10 for $18 or 20 for $34, plus the option of ranch, parmesan, or blue cheese dipping sauce.

Tacos, nachos, poutines (one made with bone marrow, another with tater tots), smashed burgers, salads, and a classic buttermilk fried chicken dinner are just sampling of the other dishes that round out the offering. On the drinks side, there are cocktails, sangrias, and spiked milkshakes in popular chocolate bar flavours: After Eight, Skor, Bounty, or Reeses.

Opened on July 5, Birdhouse is among a recent influx of restaurants to grace the island’s western end, including birria taco slinger Tacos Don Rigo and barbecue joint Smoke Box — a double whammy in the same Pierrefonds area strip mall. That comes in addition to plans for Fairview Pointe Claire’s incoming “District Gourmand” (slated to usher in Tommy Café), and, of course, a number of the area’s longer-standing stalwarts — from southern belle Bistro Nolah to old-school casse-croûte Smoked Meat Pete — that have helped bolster the West Island’s culinary credentials.

The brand-new Brunswick Boulevard restaurant is the brainchild of Montreal entrepreneur Lorne Schwartz, restaurateur George Massouras (of Madisons and Arahova Souvlaki), and among the other partners involved, Brahm Mauer, son of the founder of beloved buffalo hot wings expert Wings ‘n’ Things. Mauer has tried his hand at reviving the original Wings ‘n’ Things recipe — the restaurant originally opened in 1986 — over the years, including with a Royalmount Avenue location in 2012, then as a roaming summertime food truck and NDG pop-up. That same truck has now been made over with a Birdhouse-branded livery to be deployed for private events.

A likely draw to many, Birdhouse is reprising the “famous flavours, untouched” of the once-upon-a-time NDG staple, represented on its menu as “The Legendary WNT Buffalo” chicken wing.

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