Calgary mulls public hearings, plebiscite question for 2026 Winter Games bid
Plebiscite will likely be held in November
Calgary is wrestling with how to get public input, and what question to ask in a plebiscite, as timelines tighten on bidding for the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
A plebiscite, which was a condition of the provincial government contributing money to a bid, will likely be held in November.
A council committee overseeing a bid was told by city administration Tuesday a plebiscite can't happen sooner, or later, than that.
The deadline for cities to submit 2026 bid books to the International Olympic Committee is January.
The question that will be put to Calgarians is under construction. Mayor Naheed Nenshi would like financial parameters to be included in the question.
"It has to be a very simple question," the mayor said. "Are you in favour of Calgary bidding on the Olympics or not, but it also has to be informed by how much is that going to cost.
"Do you support us spending this kind of money on it?"
But who is paying for what is a key question still be to fully answered. And there's a time crunch, as the Calgary bid must have a complete financial breakdown for Calgarians to digest before they go to the voting booths.
'Incredibly short runway on timelines'
Committee chair Coun. Evan Woolley said the plebiscite "will be the ultimate arbiter of whether we push the send button on this bid" and "Calgarians need enough time to be able to make that decision."
"It remains an incredibly short runway on timelines," Woolley said.
The Calgary Bid Exploration Committee estimated almost a year ago the 2026 Winter Games will cost $4.6 billion with games revenue covering almost half.
How much money will come from the three levels of government and the corporate sector likely won't be known until September, according to Nenshi.
"We should have the cost in June or a little bit later than that," the mayor said. "What we're not going to have is what the various contributions are from private sector, from other governments, from the city.
"We probably won't have that until September and that, of course, is critical for the public engagement because people need to know what we're actually talking about."
Input ideas to come in June
The committee, which includes the mayor and six city councillors, declined to recommend holding non-statutory public hearings of council for the games, but asked administration to come back in June with ideas on how Calgarians could still have public input.
"If we're doing a plebiscite, I just think a public hearing is window dressing," Nenshi stated. "It's a lot of time, it's a lot of work, it's a lot of money to organize that.
"It's very difficult people who are working to come down to [city hall] so you never get a full cross-section of people."
Another variable is work on a bid is slowly transitioning from a city project team to a bid corporation.
The bid corporation chair is expected to be named within days and the chief executive officer should be announced within a month, according to Nenshi.
The cost of bidding for 2026 is about $30 million, which will be split between the federal and provincial governments and the city if it goes ahead.
The plebiscite, which will cost just under $2 million, isn't included in the bid budget.
Nenshi believed the provincial government will contribute funds since the plebiscite was its condition.
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