Calgary 2026 Olympic Games bid remains alive, offering opportunity for builders
By Donna Spencer, The Canadian PressFinancing
CALGARY—A potential Calgary bid for the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games survived a city council vote Oct. 31, when a motion leading to the cancellation of an upcoming plebiscite did not pass.
Ten votes out of 15 on council were required to abandon the Nov. 13 plebiscite asking Calgarians if they want to host the games or not.
Eight voted in favour of a motion that would have led to abandoning the plebiscite and scrubbing a bid.
Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi was among those who wanted the plebiscite to go ahead.
“It was a very close vote,” the mayor said.
“Over the next few days I will be trying to explain this deal to people, but I’m now at the point where I can actually say to people ‘this is a great deal we’ve negotiated’ and I’m encouraging people to vote yes.'”
The plebiscite’s result is non-binding, but will influence the next council vote on a Winter Games bid.
Mail-in ballots for the plebiscite were mailed out earlier in the week. Advance voting is scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday.
“This is a great opportunity for Calgarians,” Calgary 2026 chief executive officer Mary Moran said. “Now it’s important for them to get informed and understand this is a good deal.
“This is $4.4 billion of investment coming into our community that should be taken very seriously.”
It appeared a bid was headed for the ditch Tuesday when a councillor said there wasn’t a financial agreement between the federal and provincial governments and the city to fund the games.
But Calgary 2026 presented a revised financial plan, which the Canadian and Alberta governments agreed to in principle, to council Wednesday.
The estimated cost of hosting the 2026 Games was reduced by $125 million to a total of $5.075 billion. Among a wide range of expenses, the games would require the revitalization of eight existing sports facilities as well as the construction of new a mid-sized arena and fieldhouse, according to organization responsible for the bid.
A pro-Olympic rally drew dozens of red-clad supporters to the steps of city hall before council met. Those who didn’t make it into chambers sat in chairs and watched proceedings on a screen outside the doors.
But a Canadian Taxpayers Federation representative was dismayed a bid wasn’t abandoned Wednesday.
“The CTF will be continuing to educate the public on why the Olympic bid is just not a good choice for Calgarians,” said Alberta director Franco Terrazzano.
“Unfortunately today city council did not end the bid. This is a smoke-and-mirror show right now. We don’t have a deal between the three levels of government. We have a deal to start negotiating a deal.”
Calgary 2026 dropped the required public investment from $3 billion to $2.875 billion.
The Alberta government’s commitment remained at $700 million, while the federal government would provide a total of $1.453 billion.
“We support the Calgary Olympic bid,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday in Ottawa.
“Calgary is a world-class city. It would be great to host the Olympics in Canada, but obviously the ultimate decision is up to Calgarians and Albertans themselves.”
The city was asked to contribute $390 million, which includes $20 million to pay the premium for a $200-million insurance policy against cost over-runs.
Calgary 2026 has said $1.1 billion in contingency funds are built into the draft host plan to mitigate financial risk and that the $200 million in insurance is included in that figure.
The $150 million already committed to improving the Victoria Park area—which is a proposed games hub—was included in the city’s contribution to 2026 as a credit, in order to get matching funds from the federal government.
Moran said the security and essential services budget from the RCMP and Calgary police came in under initial estimates at a savings of $155 million.
Less security personnel also means fewer beds required for them, she said.
An alternate location for the athletes’ village is being sought, Moran said, because the original location includes the expense of moving a transit hub.
“The good news for Calgarians is costs are going down, not up,” Moran said.
The International Olympic Committee invited Calgary, Stockholm and a joint Italian bid from Milan and Cortina to be candidate cities for 2026.
Calgary was the host city of the 1988 Winter Olympics. The venues still used for international and domestic competition and training are the foundation of a second bid.
Calgary 2026 estimated $502 million would be required to get those venues Olympic-ready again.
The IOC has committed $1.2 billion in cash and services to the 2026 host city. The IOC will accept bids in January and the host city will be elected in June.
“If we’re successful in the international field in June next year, this could be the most sustainable Olympic city there’s ever been,” Canadian Olympic Committee president Tricia Smith said.
“Having them in eighty-eight and having them again and having those facilities revitalized, incredible story.”
—Terry Pedwell contributed to this story