Cost of Canada 150 should be split fairly

pg04-e-cartoonDon DimanligThe countdown to Canada’s 150th birthday party is on and the evidence is all over Ottawa.

If you’ve missed the 2017 emblem emblazoned everywhere downtown, chances are you’ve had your route diverted to avoid construction. The city is in frenzied preparation for Canada 150, and as the municipal budget gets set this month, the nation’s sesquicentennial celebrations — and who’s footing the bill — should be front of mind for city officials.

No one seems ready to predict how many people will flock to the capital for the Canada Day long weekend, but it’s clear there will be hundreds of thousands — and potentially millions of extra visitors over the course of the entire year.

The city has even started planning for urban, pop-up campgrounds to accommodate everyone. As reported by Centretown News in September, hotel rooms in the downtown core for the July 1 holiday weekend are nearly booked solid, and at prices at least double the normal rates.

City Hall tabled its draft budget on Nov. 9. There will be much debate before it’s finalized on Dec. 14. So far, the city has set aside $1.5 million for extra costs expected during the Canada 150 celebrations. But now’s the time to figure out what the overall federal-municipal split should be when it comes to paying for all the extras. 

Ottawa Public Health has voiced concern about the challenges it will face leading up to July 1. As this issue of Centretown News reports, OPH is predicting a 25- to 50-per-cent increase from last year in the need for inspectors — and resources were already strained.

The Ottawa Police Service says policing the 2017 celebrations will cost $1.5 million, and Chief Charles Bordeleau has confessed that planning for Canada 150 was giving him “ulcers.”

The high cost is in part due to crowds expected at events throughout the year, not just around July 1. Red Bull Crashed Ice takes to the canal in March, the Juno Awards will be hosted in April and the Grey Cup will be played in November — these major events on top of the Canada Day spectacular on Parliament Hill.

Both the National Capital Region and the federal government stand to benefit from the celebrations. The year-long bash should amplify national pride and strengthen Canadian unity, and the city is expected to enjoy unprecedented tourist traffic. Ottawa’s role in 2017 is to be the best host it can be, and the construction crunch shows how hard the city is trying to leave a good impression on the expected throngs. 

But as Canadians flock to Ottawa to join the party, the federal government would do well to remember that it’s Canada we’ll be raising a glass to — not just the host city.

Mayor Jim Watson has expressed confidence that local and federal officials would work out fair arrangements. Perhaps. But the federal government has a lot on its plate coordinating celebrations across the country, and with Ottawa as a national focus, the city deserves help.

It’s time for Watson and city councillors to turn to the provincial and federal governments to help distribute the burden to taxpayers. Just as the Ontario government stepped in to help Toronto with costs during the PanAm Games, steps should be taken to fairly split the bill for Canada 150, so Ottawa isn’t left strapped for cash after the cake is cut and the balloons deflated.