Critics sound alarm of secrecy surrounding possible Toronto bid for Olympics

TORONTO — Days before Toronto must decide whether to bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics, critics are sounding the alarm over what they call unprecedented secrecy surrounding the process.

Opponents of a possible bid say Mayor John Tory is keeping the details and costs of a potential Toronto proposal under wraps, while at least one member of the mayor’s own council has accused him of conducting backroom deals.

That so little is known about the mayor’s dealings so late in the process is troubling and “extraordinary,” said Janice Forsyth, director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at Western University. 

“This is where all of these promises are made, this is where all of these deals are made, and they’re usually made using public dollars and when these things and these deals are done in private, it is a serious problem concerning transparency and accountability,” she said.

“If there were public debates about it, if the public was actually being invited to talk about it and then they still chose to host the Games, then that would be a different matter,” she said. “But they aren’t actually being given an opportunity to be a self-determining part of this process — or at least not yet and (the deadline) is next week.” 

A city councillor urged the mayor this week to call a special council meeting before Tuesday’s deadline to register interest with the International Olympic Committee. Other councillors have voiced similar requests in recent weeks. 

“It is a mistake on your part to continue to have ‘behind-the-scene conversations’ with folks without council direction, while the deadline for sending a letter expressing interest in an Olympic bid slowly and surely slips away,” Coun. Anthony Perruzza wrote in a letter to the mayor.

While the letter to the IOC doesn’t commit Toronto to making a pitch for the 2024 Games, Tory has said it represents a serious step toward a bid and should not be seen as a “place-holder.”

The mayor has repeatedly said he will not convene council ahead of the deadline but will hold a vote on whether to proceed with a bid should he file a letter of interest. 

“I just felt in the circumstances that the decision as to whether to even send a letter or not expressing interest was one that I could make, in consultation with my colleagues and a lot of other people,” Tory said Thursday. “So I’ll be held accountable for that decision.”

The result of those consultations has not been made public and several members of the city’s budget committee have expressed concerns about the cost of competing for and hosting the Olympics, and who would foot the bill. 

Postponing debate until after a letter is filed is “back to front,” said Ann Harwood of NoTO2024, a grassroots organization opposing a bid for the Games.

“We have one person, the mayor of Toronto, talking for the taxpayers of the city without consultation,” she said. “It’s been like a circus — anybody you talk to is like, ‘What is going on?'”

Emails obtained by the organization through a freedom of information request showed the existence of a so-called Olympic working group connected to the mayor’s office. 

Tory said the working group is simply assisting him in planning his consultations.

What happens after Sept. 15 remains murky under new rules brought in by the IOC, Forsyth said, noting details of the new bidding process won’t be released until after the deadline.

“So first we have to sign on to the commitment to bid and then they give you information and I don’t even know what that date will be or what that information will consist of,” she said. “It’s a complete grey zone, as far as the public is concerned.”

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press