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How can Toronto possibly be considering hosting the 2022 Commonwealth Games?

Lime green blankets, donated by PanAm games cover the mats on a floor in a city warming centre.

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Should Toronto host the 2022 Commonwealth Games?

Wow, I didn't see that coming! As it turns out, Toronto City Council will have the opportunity to debate that question this week.

It's a short timeline that will be sprung on Toronto City Council March 28, a result of Durban, South Africa being stripped of its rights to host the Games earlier this month, when the city missed deadlines and payments set by the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF).

Full disclosure: my ears perked up because I'm a former member of the "Bread not Circuses" coalition, which played a huge role in fighting two previous Olympic bids by Toronto. Our group was able to present our concerns regarding Toronto's poor social conditions to the International Olympic Committee when they toured here.

We showed them evidence of an array of social problems that call for spending on social programs; for example, to fight hunger and homelessness (that's the Bread in the group's name), not elitist sports games (that's the Circuses). Toronto lost out to Atlanta for the 1996 games and Beijing for the 2008 games.

There is a broad collection of evidence that suggests cities and especially marginalized groups do not fare well when the "circus comes to town." Experts like Toronto’s Helen Lenskyj have written many books on the huge Olympic industry, documenting the social harms that result when cities and countries host such mega-billion-dollar projects. These range from human rights abuses, forced evictions and loss of rooming house stock, laws criminalizing homelessness and privatizing public space, forced displacement of sex trade workers, and financial corruption.

Recently, the Olympic circus fiasco nearly started up again in Toronto. Fortunately, the city withdrew its plans to bid for the 2024 Olympic Games, undoubtedly due to lack of public support and the city's fiscal crisis.

I love sports -- as do most of my Bread not Circuses former colleagues. I was also an enthusiastic Pan Am and Parapan Am Games attendee in the summer of 2015. While the city did obtain a few new sports facilities, it is not clear there was a strong enough social legacy left in the city. Sure, there is the new YMCA servicing the community built in the West Donlands where the Athletes’ Village was located.

Today, among the condos being developed in that community, there are 253 below-market and rent-geared-to-income homes, which, with funding from the province and the city, have now been filled by Wigwamen and the Fred Victor Centre. With close to 180,000 individuals on the social housing wait list in Toronto -- that barely makes a dent.

Then there are the lime green blankets from the Athletes' Village, donated to a warming centre for homeless people. The warming centre, which is now several years old, operates because the city cannot, will not open enough emergency shelters.

The Pan Am games cost $2.37 billion, apparently coming in under budget but still rich enough to give fat bonuses totalling $5 million for its executives.

Your tax money at work.

Homeless people got the lousy lime green blankets.

Some pro-games advocates point out it would be a breeze to host because we have all the sports facilities. We may, but we no longer have the Athletes Village and it’s pretty clear that all three levels of government have a wimpy sense of purpose when it comes to allocating money for affordable housing. The recent federal budget carved out a $11 billion long-term plan on affordable housing spending, but very little will roll out this year. We've yet to see the province of Ontario truly step up to do some housing builds.

Toronto's 2017 city budget was morally bankrupt. It cut $1 million in shelter funding, cut 10 front-line shelter positions, added little new money for affordable housing, increased user fees and staffing cuts at recreation centres, several pool closures in schools, and made cuts to long-term care homes.

Your tax money not at work.

The call for Bread not Circuses is still fitting, perhaps even more so, as Toronto foolishly ponders the 2022 Games.

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Image: Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

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