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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

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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