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Olympic economic impact less than promised

New reports on hosting the 2010 Olympic Winter Games show the economic impact in British Columbia was much lower than politicians promised before the games.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers reports looked at the first three months of 2010, which included the games themselves, plus the years 2003 to 2009 when preparations were underway, including building venues.

“In the time periods studied, PwC found the Games generated between $2 billion and $2.5 billion in real gross domestic product (GDP) to British Columbia,” said the B.C. government's news release on the reports.

Those figures, however, are well shy of what the province promoted heading into the games.

Here's what B.C. Finance Minister Colin Hansen said on Feb. 17, 2009 as he delivered that year's budget, three months ahead of the provincial election: "The total economic impact, once the games are done, has been projected by independent sources to be as much as $10 billion."

That figure was down slightly from the $10.7 billion the government had previously promoted on its website.

In November 2009, The Tyee reported the government had again quietly downgraded its estimate to $4 billion, a number that removed the convention centre from the calculation but assumed a big boost in tourist visits resulting from the games.

The economic impact was likely to be closer to $2 billion, based on a 2002 report that outlined what would happen in a “low visits scenario” with a smaller jump in tourism, we reported at the time.

Hansen responded to that story, which generated questions in the legislature, by saying “It's a big number regardless . . . In the billions of dollars.”

And here's what Hansen said in today's press release: “These preliminary results are significant, and we know that when we measure 2010 fully, we'll see that British Columbia got an even more powerful economic lift from the Games just when we needed it most."

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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