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Calgary will vote in 2026 Winter Olympics plebiscite

Calgary city council has voted to continue with the Olympic plebiscite, despite concerns about the proposed funding model that left many councillors asking questions.

In an 8-7 vote, council voted for reconsidering its pursuit of an Olympic bid, however Council was voting on a reconsideration of a previous council decision, which meant it would take a majority of 10 councillors to be successful.

Some, such as Ward 8’s Evan Woolley, said Calgarians would not have enough time to look at the numbers and make an informed decision.

A slim minority took the stance of Coun. Shane Keating, who said the cost of continuing with the plebiscite was worth it.

“For $200,000 I’m willing to say Calgary, it’s your decision,” said Keating.

After an 11th hour announcement from Calgary’s BidCo late Tuesday night, Council made an Olympic debate its first order of emergency business at it’s regularly scheduled strategic meeting.

Council learned how at the 11th hour, the BidCo had lowered the budget on the Bid from $3 billion to $2.875 billion. Those savings were mainly achieved by reducing the expected security budget, and dropping the expense of moving Calgary’s bus barns to make way for the Athlete’s Village.

Calgary 2026, the bid corporation tasked with crafting a bid, spent the better part of the day answering question from all councillors.

But the day began on an accusatory note as Calgary 2026 board chair Scott Hutcheson took council to task for not getting a funding agreement secured between the three levels of government.

“Councillors, it was your job,” said Hutcheson. “You committed to secure a multi-party agreement. To date you’ve failed to complete that work. The facts are, there is an offer in place by two orders of government.

“You know the terms of the deal, you’ve been briefed on those terms, and you have ample information before you.”

Hutcheson called it a very good deal, and throughout the day, he and BidCo CEO Mary Moran would say that the funding deal would pay Calgary back 10 times over.

Those numbers were called into question by University of Calgary Economist Trevor Tombe on Twitter.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi asked about the possibility of moving the date of the plebiscite into December. Calgary returning officer Laura Kennedy explained that finding new locations on a new date for a vote would be nearly impossible close to Christmas.

Polarized debate

When it became clear there would not be enough votes to stop the plebiscite, Coun. Ward Sutherland used his debate time to express his frustration with the polarization of this debate and others within the city.

“It breaks my heart, because we used to be a can-do city. And we’ve turned into fear-mongering,” said Sutherland.

RELATED: OPINION – The Olympics debate should challenge our version of Calgary’s best self

He read an article from one of Calgary’s newspapers that quoted Coun. Jeromy Farkas talking about council “ramming things down the throats of Calgarians.” He said that statement didn’t reflect his actions, or the actions of other councillors.

“I ask Calgarians in the next little while (…) please make the effort to do the research, whether you’re for or against, make the time to do the research,” said the Ward 1 councillor. “Whether you’re for or against, stay out of the ugly conversations. Get off Twitter. Talk to each other like the old world and have a conversation. Try to get the right kind of information, and respect each other, regardless of your position.”

He said he hoped the public would take his message to heart.

“This is not Calgary, this is not who we are. Stand up. Be different.”

His speech drew applause from the gallery, which is technically not allowed.


Vote Breakdown

For Reconsideration (killing the plebiscite): Gondek, Sutherland, Wooley, Demong, Farkas, Chu, Magliocca, Farrell

Against: Davison, Jones, Carra, Colley-Urquhart, Chahal, Keating, Nenshi