Calgary

Calgary 2026 accused of predetermining outcome on whether to pursue Olympic bid

The organization tasked with Calgary's Olympic bid is coming under fire for a perceived lack of transparency and a possible bonus structure for its newly minted CEO that encourages only one outcome.

Bonus structure for bid corporation CEO gives incentive to pursue Games despite claims of objectivity

Mary Moran was announced as the CEO of Calgary 2026 on Tuesday. (CBC)

The organization tasked with Calgary's Olympic bid is coming under fire for a perceived lack of transparency and a possible bonus structure for its newly minted CEO that encourages only one outcome. 

Calgary 2026 is a private group, funded exclusively with tax dollars, that is diving into more precise cost estimates for hosting the Winter Games, whether it makes sense for the city to pursue the games and then preparing a bid submission. 

On Tuesday, the group announced Mary Moran as its new CEO. She spoke of her task of gathering and disseminating information on the bid so that Calgarians can make an informed decision — one way or the other — in a planned plebiscite. 

"We will not do this at all cost," Moran said, after acknowledging not all Calgarians support a bid. 

Bonus structure

Shortly after the announcement, when asked how much money Moran would be making, the board chair said there was no contract yet.

When asked if her compensation would be disclosed once there's a contract in place, Scott Hutcheson wouldn't commit.

"I don't think so," he said. "I don't think that's necessary information in the public but, you know, we can look at that."

Hutcheson did say, however, that Moran would receive a base salary and "then two performance objectives, one is to get through a plebiscite and then the second is to win the Games."

That doesn't sit well with outspoken Olympic bid critic Coun. Sean Chu.

"I think there's quite a few people speaking from both sides of their mouth," he said on Thursday.

"On the one side, they said, 'well yeah, we're going to be neutral,' but on the other hand, 'we're going to give you a bonus when you get a yes vote.' So what way do you think they're going to go? Of course yes."

No contract or mission, yet

Hutcheson was not available for interviews, but Calgary 2026 spokesperson Chris Dornan said there would be more information once Moran assumes her new role. 

"You'll have more information on August 13 and you'll be able to find everything out then," he said when asked if that would include her compensation package.

When pressed if there would be bonuses tied to a plebiscite and successful bid, he said, "You'll have more information on August 13 and you'll be able to find everything out then."

Dornan said the organization is currently working on its vision and mission. 

'Just not prudentially wise'

A professor of ethics at the University of Calgary says the bonuses could pose a problem for the organization and its CEO.

"I mean, there might be social pressure to draw one conclusion over another. When you're hired by the prosecuting attorney, then it's not hard to figure out what kind of decision they want you to come to," said David Dick.

"Those sorts of conflicts of interest, the more nebulous and the more informal social ones are the ones that might just be unavoidable. But explicitly building one into somebody's contract who has been given the task of making a disinterested decision, you make that basically impossible by giving them a financial interest on one side of the question."

Dick said that sort of incentive package is not only a bad idea from a conflict of interest perspective, but also from a sound decision-making point of view. 

"Because if you want to actually know whether a particular investment is a good decision or not, you want good, dispassionate information about that, and building a conflict of interest in for the people who are going to be providing you with that decision, is not only sort of ethically troubling, but it's also just not prudentially wise."

Freedom of information

Chu wanted Calgary 2026 to be subject to freedom of information legislation given the public dollars involved, but the group operates outside the legislation.

He says he understands some elements of the bid should remain secret, but argues it should be up to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy office to decide. 

"Right away is that they promised transparency and accountability and everything, but when the media asks how much the CEO makes, they say, 'well, we can't tell you that.' Come on."

Calgary 2026 has a $30-million budget, with the city paying $9.5 million, the province chipping in $10 million and the federal government contributing $10.5 million.

It's estimated the total cost of hosting the Games would be $4.57 billion. After sponsorships, International Olympic Committee contributions, ticketing and other revenues, the cost is estimated at $2.4 billion.

About the Author

Drew Anderson is a web journalist at CBC Calgary. Like almost every journalist working today, he's won a few awards. He's also a third-generation Calgarian. You can follow him on Twitter @drewpanderson. Contact him in confidence at drew.anderson@cbc.ca.