Almost as soon as the podium was down and the room emptied where an Alberta Commonwealth Games exploratory process was announced, the ‘No’ side ramped up.
A coalition made up of the Alberta Institute, Common Sense Calgary and Common Sense Edmonton launched their opposition to the Games bid, hoping to provide Albertans with “the other side of the story.”
The cities of Calgary and Edmonton, along with the Tsuut’ina Nation and the Province of Alberta announced Wednesday a plan to assess the feasibility of jointly hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2030. In total, the orders of government pitched in $4 million to explore it further.
It sets up similarly to the months-long ideological battle leading up to Calgary’s 2026 Winter Games plebiscite – minus the plebiscite.
Kristy Koehler, executive director with Common Sense Calgary, said using public cash for the Games is a non-starter. Especially given the affordability situation for many Albertans.
“We’re not inherently opposed to the Games,” she told LiveWire Calgary on Thursday.
“We’re just opposed to public funding being spent on them.”
Koehler said that their hope is that the government(s) immediately rule out taxpayer funding for it. If they’re planning to press ahead with it, a referendum is preferable.
“If you’re intent on spending public money, Calgarians should, at minimum, be asked if that’s something that they want,” Koehler said.
She said Calgarians made a clear decision on the 2026 Olympics. When asked if this was a different time, and there was a need for a post-pandemic unifier, Koehler said that public good argument often comes up.
“I respect the argument that people want to connect and people want to be together,” she said.
“But I think there’s a lot of ways to do that without having to spend taxpayer dollars.”
Economic benefits in exchange for public funds
In Wednesday’s event, Alberta Minister of Culture Jason said that he’d love nothing more than to display the hospitality and the beauty of the province to the world. He touted the economic benefit of hosting the events across the province.
“These games will also bring in significant boosts to Alberta’s booming economy, creating additional jobs and supporting the tourism sector,” Minister Luan said.
Dr. Roger Jackson, President and CEO of the Alberta 2030 bid team, also touted the economic benefits.
“There will be 1000s of new full-time jobs in our communities across many sectors, including technology, innovation, construction, hospitality, and manufacturing,” he said.
“The Games will invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Alberta communities. In the weeks ahead, the government partners including the Government of Canada will define exactly what this economic opportunity and benefit will look like.”
Koehler said the economic benefits are often overestimated or don’t come to fruition.
“Any kind of academic reports show that for the long term, gains by hosting these big events, don’t come to fruition,” she said.
“Usually, the reports that show it’s a good thing are generated by the groups who really want to host them.”
Dr. Brian Soebbing, associate professor at the University of Alberta, whose research has been around the economics of sports facilities and events, said generally speaking the research shows economic benefits aren’t realized. (Dr. Soebbing is not associated with the Alberta 2030 No groups.)
“When you’re looking at facilities, sporting events, all the major sporting events and things like that, the literature has been pretty clear,” he said.
“Research-wise, we don’t see also a lot of (economic) impact.”
Economic impact studies
Moshe Lander, senior lecturer in economics for Concordia University, said if a group is for or against a major sporting event, there’s often a pre-determined bias in the economic impact reporting. Lander is also not associated with any of the groups.
“You don’t pay money to a consultant to tell you what a terrible idea it is,” he said.
Lander referenced the coalescence of the Commonwealth Games ‘No’ side as well.
“If they wanted to create some sort of economic impact assessments, they would, of course, create metrics that make it look like and support their position that it’s not a good idea.”
Lander said the Commonwealth Games is considered a tier-three athletic event. Something like the Olympics or the World Cup is tier one, and the World Track and Field Championships is tier two.
“Tier three type events don’t usually deliver anything in the way of significant economic benefits,” he said.
“It’s either too niche to attract the world’s attention, or to generate some sort of positive economic development or long-term growth, but it does incur significant costs.”
The bid exploration group said that while they’ve looked at cost estimates for other international event bids, and they’ve developed a cost range, they haven’t nailed down a final amount.
Koehler said they’ll continue to ramp up the awareness leading to a final decision by the organizing committee. They said they’re committed to putting out accurate information to Albertans.
“It does come down to decisions, and my hope is that Calgarians are as educated as possible on benefits and drawbacks and can make the best decision possible,” she said.