CALGARY — With the clock ticking towards a Calgary vote on hosting the 2026 Winter Games, what the federal government and the city are willing to spend remains unclear.
Calgarians will be asked in a Nov. 13 plebiscite three weeks from Tuesday whether they want to host the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Of the estimated $5.2 price tag to host the games, the Calgary 2026 bid corporation has proposed a $3 billion public investment split between the city, provincial and federal governments.
The remainder would be paid for via games revenues.
The Alberta government has committed what it says is a hard $700 million and refuses to cover any deficits. The city won’t release its number before the Canadian government does.
“I’m well aware of the timeline,” Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi said Monday. “The feds too have agreed its really important the public have these numbers well in advance of voting.
“I expect a decision very, very soon.”
The federal government’s contribution under its international hosting policy for sporting events is “up to” 50 per cent of the public investment — which would be $1.5 billion in this case — but the feds have yet to declare a number.
Nenshi doesn’t believe the city should pay more than the province, so even with a maximum contribution from the Canadian government, the numbers don’t add up to $3 billion.
“If we get a number from the feds that is not close, along with the city contribution, to getting us to $3 billion . . . if it’s not close then we have to have a real conversation about whether we can afford this at all,” the mayor said.
Meanwhile, Alberta premier Rachel Notley suggested Monday after a meeting with oil and gas executives in Calgary that if government contributions don’t add up to $3 billion, then the International Olympic Committee could make up the difference if the IOC wants Calgary in the race.
Calgary, Stockholm and a combined Italian bid from Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo were approved by the IOC as candidate cities, but Stockholm is getting cold feet.
“If there is a gap between what needs to be put forward and what is out there, perhaps maybe the IOC ought to be looking at what they could put in,” Notley said.
“There’s not a whole swack of people out there begging for the Olympics so maybe we should be a price giver not a price taker on this.”
Said Nenshi: “I believe there is something to be said for that position. Certainly anyone looking at negotiations might say ‘there’s a bargaining position here.'”
The IOC has committed to giving the successful 2026 host city US$925 million ($1.2 billion Cdn) in cash and services.
Nenshi indicated the amount of public investment required could drop, but not a lot.
“I think we are constantly looking at ways to shave back the numbers,” he said. “I think there are some opportunities to do that.
“I think it’s realistic to expect that when the bid is completed and if the plebiscite passes, then we would see a number a little bit lower than $3 billion.”
City council has reserved the right to pull the plug on a bid.
Calgary was the host city of the 1988 Winter Olympics with nearby Canmore, Alta., the site of cross-country skiing and biathlon.
The venues from those games are the foundation for another potential bid 30 years later. They require $500 million in upgrades to be games-ready again, according to Calgary 2026.
The new builds proposed are an athletes’ village which would convert into a mix of affordable, attainable and market housing post-games, as well as a fieldhouse and mid-sized arena seating between 5,000 and 6,000.
The bid corporation’s proposed budget includes $1.1 billion in operating and capital contingency funds to mitigate risk.