Calgary council votes to keep Olympic bid alive

Despite a dust up over two critical reports that were not made public or provided to city councillors, Calgary's political leaders voted 9-4 to keep the city's Olympic ambitions alive.

The vote comes days after it was revealed two critical reports were not made public or provided to councillors

Coun. Druh Farrell was one of four councillors to vote against spending more money on a Calgary Olympic bid. (CBC)

Despite a dust up over two critical reports that were not made public or provided to city councillors, Calgary's political leaders voted 9-4 to keep the city's Olympic ambitions alive. 

Council approved spending an additional $1 million in order to further fund a bid exploration for the 2026 winter games, with an additional $1 million to be released if the provincial and federal governments get on board. 

If the other levels of government don't formally support the bid, council will again debate moving forward in February. 

The debate on Monday came days after the Globe and Mail reported on two reports that were not provided to council that were critical of two studies — prepared by Deloitte and the Conference Board of Canada — that paint a rosy economic picture of hosting the 2026 winter games.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the critical reports were given to councillors on Friday. 

"What I really heard clearly from members of council is they didn't want to kill this, they wanted to move forward but they also really understand that one of the really critical things is, we're going to need all three order of government — federal, provincial and municipal — to agree to move forward and they didn't want to get too far down that road until we got a sense from the other two orders of government where they're at," he said.

'Costs may indeed be worth paying'

Both critical reports, commissioned by city administration to evaluate the feasibility of the Deloitte and Conference Board studies, said Calgary should be cautious if expecting a windfall from the event. 

In one of the reports, released to the public during Monday's council meeting, University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe says the studies' predictions of economic gains are based on faulty methodology and that the games could be costly, citing some studies that show a decline in GDP from hosting the colossal sporting event. 

Tombe said there is evidence that an open economy like Canada's will see little return from hosting the games and that stimulus spending won't have the kind of impact boosters would hope to see. 

"In the end, the decision to host the games should be based less on estimates such as these, but more on a full and complete cost benefit analysis," he writes. "There will be economic costs, but those costs may indeed be worth paying."

Not useful

Brad Humphreys, an economist from West Virginia University, said the two studies dole out specific financial returns as though they were guaranteed. 

"A statement like 'the 2026 Games will generate $4 billion in spending' is wrong by definition," he writes. "There is a zero per cent probability that exactly $4 billion in economic impact will be generated by the games. Making such claims does not provide any useful information for decision makers."

He too found fault with the methodology used in the studies and says the citations used throughout each study are misleading. 

'You've lost my trust'

Coun. Druh Farrell, a staunch opponent of hosting the games, chastised administration for holding back the critical reports. 

"You've lost my trust," she said before voting against the additional funding. 

After the meeting, she said the two critical reports that were not made public were a big deal.

"They're damning reports, they eviscerate the other economic reports that talk about glowing economic benefits," said Farrell. 

She said there are more "contemporary" ways to invigorate a city and that the Olympics are outdated. 

Her opposition, however, was in the minority. 

Several councillors said they were aware the games would not be a silver bullet for Calgary's economic woes, but that they could still be good for the city.