The high price of Pan Am

It’s public knowledge Scarborough is getting a new aquatics facility for the 2015 Pan Am Games, but residents might not be aware of the overall cost of hosting the games.

“[With] these kinds of circuses, there’s no longer really any dispute,” says John Clarke, founder of Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and supporter of No Games Toronto.

No Games Toronto was the group responsible for trying to stop Toronto’s bid for the 2015 Pan Am Games by rallying at future venue sites.

“What they’re going to do is divert public resources and they’re going to facilitate the process of upscale gentrification and they’re going to lead to very ugly displacement of low-income neighbourhoods and a sort of repressive climate for homeless people when the events actually take place,” Clarke says.

Clarke says in order to see the affects the Pan Am Games will have on the city, people need only look at previous Olympics or Pan Am Games.

In those cases, the cost of apartments, condos and housing rose dramatically, says retired University of Toronto professor Helen Lenskyj who has written three books on the effects of the Olympics on their host cities. Her second book, The Best Olympics Ever: Social Impacts of Sydney 2000 included an entire chapter on the negative impact the games had on housing.

“The prices were pretty much out of range of even a middle-class person, ” she says. ‘Cheap accommodation is converted by landlords into tourist accommodation and they evict the low-paying tenants to make way for more lucrative tenants.”

Lenskyj is also concerned about the lengths the city will go to impress tourists and Pan Am officials.

“The usual so-called cleaning up of the streets to make the city look clean and wholesome to visitors involves harassing, and arresting in many cases, homeless people,” Lenskyj says. “The police get special powers, as we saw in Vancouver, to do that sort of thing.

While all of Toronto will be footing the bill and suffering the consequences of the games, Scarborough’s demographics will ensure it is hit especially hard, Clarke says.

“There’s no question that the drive to displace local communities is going to have a particularly virulent effect in a place like Scarborough, which has so many low-income communities and so many people just seeking to establish themselves in this country.”

While both critics of the games admit the aquatics facility will bring some benefits, they say the money would have been better spent on several facilities in the heart of needy communities, rather than on one large facility isolated on a university campus.

“There will be lasting facilities and there will be benefits that continue to exist,” said Clarke. “But then, even an earthquake will create some level of employment and opportunity.”