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Olympic economic impacts much smaller than promised

The overall economic impact of the 2010 Winter Olympics appears to be falling far short of the British Columbia government’s projections.

The Games will add about $770 million to the provincial economy in 2010, the Conference Board of Canada said this week. That’s on top of the roughly $788 million the Games added to B.C.’s gross domestic product between 2003 and 2008 according to a November report by the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Adding the two numbers together gives a figure just under $1.6 billion. While that leaves out 2009, as well as any impacts after 2010, it does cover the majority of Games-related spending.

“The biggest impact is in 2010 because of the tourism,” said Marie-Christine Bernard, the Conference Board's associate director in the provincial forecast service. “That will weaken off after the Olympics.” Other major spending has been for security and infrastructure, she said.

Most of the infrastructure had already been built by 2009 and most Olympic visitors had not yet arrived, she said.

In last February’s budget speech, finance minister Colin Hansen said the Games would inject $10 billion into the provincial economy.

The province later downgraded its projection to $4 billion, a figure which is still quoted on the government's website.

So where will the extra $2.4 billion needed to reach even that revised goal come from? A B.C government spokesperson said there are no updates available on the economic impacts of the Games, but there should be more information soon.

“We'll know more once the event is over,” said the Conference Board’s Bernard.

The total cost to Canadian and British Columbian taxpayers to stage the Games is estimated between $6 and $7 billion.

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

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