Let’s vote: Calgary council sends Calgary Olympics decision to a plebiscite

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says leveraging federal tax dollars could be a good deal for the city

Mayor Naheed Nenshi takes questions from the media after hearing the Calgary 2026 draft hosting concept. (Brodie Thomas/LiveWire)

After a long night of closed-door deliberation, councillors voted to move ahead with a November Calgary Olympics plebiscite  rather than take an “off-ramp” and end the pursuit of a bid.

In a 12-3 vote, councillors voted to give Calgarians their say in the matter. Councillors Farrell, Chu and Magliocca voted against the plebiscite. All were signalling their desire to take the off ramp, since the province has made its funding contingent on the city holding a plebiscite.

Council also gave permission to the city secretariat to continue its due diligence review of the Draft Hosting Plan that was released Tuesday, and authorized city manager Jeff Fielding to negotiate the details of cost sharing arrangements on hosting the games.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Calgarians should look at the big picture and not dwell on the handful of unknowns as they make up their minds on the 2026 Olympic bid plebiscite scheduled for November.

Many of the nitty gritty details of the Bid Corporation’s plan, including the costs, were made public Tuesday afternoon.

The total cost would be $5.2 billion in 2018 dollars, or $5.999 billion when adjusted for inflation to 2026 dollars.

Taxpayers at all levels of government would be on the hook for about $3 billion. The remainder would be paid for privately via ticket sales, corporate sponsorship and a contribution from the International Olympic Committee in cash and services.

The bid was built around the use of existing sports facilities in almost every circumstance, except for a new fieldhouse – which the city is planning to build anyway – and a new 5,000 seat community hockey arena.

Nenshi said the cost to the city would be about $500 million, with other costs being picked up by the other two orders of government – although the province still has not made a firm commitment to pay its share.

“The biggest chunk of that would be a fieldhouse, and we already have a fieldhouse on our books for over 300 million,” said the mayor.

“If you think about it that way, it means the city would be putting 200 million in, and in return would be getting several billion dollars in capital infrastructure. It’s a pretty good deal.”

He noted that the $200 million ballpark figure would be spread over the seven years leading up to the games.

“If we can get all that money from other places and also get all the benefits of an Olympic games, that starts to sound pretty interesting to me.”

Mary Moran, CEO of the Calgary 2026 BidCo, stressed the value of hosting the games, rather than the cost. The federal government has suggested it could pick up 50 per cent of the total public investment, which would be about $1.5 billion.

She said if Calgary doesn’t make the bid, it’s money that will go to other parts of the country.

Moran also noted the level of detail in the budget was unprecedented for a bid in such early stages. It had 30-40,000 lines of detail, and had already been audited. She said her team had responded to more than 1,000 questions of clarification brought to them by auditors.

Calgary BidCo CEO Mary Moran delivers Olympic numbers to city council Tuesday. JEFF MCINTOSH / CANADIAN PRESS

“We built a bottom up budget,” she said. “This level of budgeting detail is normally done three years out. We’re four to five years out ahead of our budgeting detail. We’ve been sharing that info with all orders of government.”

However not every councillor was on board. Coun. Druh Farrell, who has been opposed to hosting the games from the start, asked Moran for detail on what benefits Calgarians would see, such as improved accessibility on transit, or an LRT to the airport.

City Manager Jeff Fielding interjected, saying that sort of detail was not yet available.

Coun. Peter Demong asked how much it might cost the city to get the infrastructure benefits of an Olympic Games without an Olympic Bid.

In that case, Fielding said the number was being crunched but was not yet available.

Demong said despite the detailed report, the lack of details on other options was troubling for him.

“It’s making it really difficult to vote on anything today,” he said.

“I’ve got problems with the numbers, I’ve got nothing to compare with the numbers, I’ve got no cost separation. This is going to be really difficult.

After a long night of closed door deliberation, councillors returned to vote on whether or not to continue with the process, or take an “off-ramp” and end the pursuit of a bid.

In a 12-3 vote, councillors voted to give Calgarians their say in the matter. Councillors Farrell, Chu and Magliocca voted against the plebiscite. All were signalling their desire to take the off ramp, since the province has made its funding contingent on the city holding a plebiscite.

Council also gave permission to the city secretariat to continue its due diligence review of the Draft Hosting Plan that was released Tuesday, and authorized city manager Jeff Fielding to negotiate the details of cost sharing arrangements on hosting the games.

– With files from The Canadian Press

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  1. POLL: Calgary Olympic bid details are in; Should we host the Winter Games? – LiveWire Calgary
  2. Be careful comparing 2010 cost to Calgary 2026: Vancouver CEO John Furlong – LiveWire Calgary

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