Council nears final Olympic bid off-ramp as many questions linger for Calgary

Calgary city councillors are gearing up for their final off-ramp in the debate over whether Calgary should or shouldn't bid on the 2026 Olympic Games.

Council vote scheduled for Sept. 10 will decide whether or not city continues with process

A city council vote on Sept. 10 will decide whether or not Calgary moves forward with its bid for the 2026 Olympic Games. In this file photo, fans cheer and wave flags as the Canadian delegation parades during the opening ceremony of the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary. (Jonathan Utz/AFP/Getty Images)

Calgary city councillors are gearing up for their final off-ramp in the debate over whether Calgary should or shouldn't bid on the 2026 Olympic Games.

It's a battle of time versus information, with a discussion and vote at council scheduled for Sept. 10 that will decide whether or not the city will continue on with the process.

A recent survey commissioned by the city suggests 53 per cent of Calgarians support bidding for the 2026 Winter Olympics, while 33 per cent oppose hosting the Olympics again. Thirteen per cent of Calgarians reported being undecided.

Despite the slight majority of Calgarians reporting being in favour of the bid, the question on the minds of some councillors Tuesday was whether or not council will have all the information required to make a fully informed decision when they vote next month. 

Coun. Evan Woolley, the chair of the city's Olympic Assessment Committee, said not all of the information will be ready in time for the September meeting.

"There's a whole series of costs, both capital and operating, associated with the Olympics. The who is going to be paying for what won't be known on the 10th, but … our negotiating teams are working on that today," Woolley said.

He said the vast majority of the information gathered about costs, risks and rewards of the 2026 Games will be made available to council ahead of the meeting.

"The 10th is in my mind as the last off-ramp for city council leading to up a plebiscite," Woolley said.

The plebiscite is set for Nov. 13.

Stephen Carter, who campaigns for the Yes side, says council shouldn't walk away before Calgarians get to have their say.

"The September 10th deadline is arbitrary. It's made up by city council and the city shouldn't expect that we'll be done by then," he said.

"But, moving the Games forward, we know that by November the 13th, basically the entire book is going to be written. We'll know exactly what the Games will look like, and Calgarians will be able to make an informed choice. And that's who should be making a choice on a decision of this magnitude."

Concerns for Calgarians

Coun. Peter Demong said it was getting down to a time crunch ahead of the September vote.

"I'm just getting more and more frustrated as the days and weeks go by that, as of Sept. 10, we may have the majority of this information, which really only gives us 60 days to disseminate all of this information to a million people," Demong said.

Members of No Calgary Olympics campaign were present at the committee meeting on Tuesday. Organizer Erin Waite told CBC Calgary News at 6 the city's survey indicated Calgarians are waiting for more information about this bid, and they should be concerned about the tight timeline before the vote.

"We need to know more about the plan, we need to know the cost, we need to know about contingency and cost overrun, and we need to know about cost sharing," she said.

"We need to see that instead of missteps and hard deadlines we can actually get a major project like this done without all kinds of negative impacts on our city."

Waite said she doesn't see how any Calgarians can be behind the bid at this point with the lack of solid information about the costs to the city.

"What we're seeing is the side effect of the [International Olympic Committee] controlling a competitive bid process, setting all the deadlines, and here we are in a panic and I just worry this isn't going to lead to a bid that makes sense to Calgarians," she said.

If the city does move ahead with a bid, it will be submitted in January 2019 and the host city will be chosen in September 2019. 

With files from Helen Pike and John Gibson