Calgary

Calgary Olympic plebiscite: What you need to know to vote and be informed

From the costs and benefits to the nitty gritty of how, when and where to vote, we've broken down all you need to know for the upcoming vote.

From the issues to the nuts and bolts of voting, we've got you covered for Nov. 13 vote

Calgarians have an important decision to make this month in a rare city plebiscite. (iStock)

Calgarians will be asked to vote in a non-binding plebiscite on Nov. 13 on whether the city should bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Advance voting is already underway.

It's no small decision, with billions in public dollars to be invested and potentially more, should the budget go off the rails.

Critics say that's inevitable and argue the risks are too high and the details too sparse. 

Proponents point to what they see as Olympic-sized benefits that come from hosting the Games, or the intangible benefits of lifting spirits in a city still emerging from oil price crash doldrums.

Maybe the only thing that is clear in the debate, however, is that there is a lot of often conflicting information on just what's going on.

Here's our attempt to gather what you should know in one place and where you can find more information to ensure you're informed to vote on Nov. 13.

The costs

Cost is a big one and the source of a flurry of recent budget tweaks, public spats between governments and last-minute funding deals.

So, how much will it cost to host the Games in Calgary?

The bid corporation, Calgary 2026, estimates the total cost for the Games at approximately $5.1 billion.

Of that, they're asking governments to pony up $2.875 billion after an earlier request for $3 billion.

The budget and the math

It's not clear exactly how Calgary 2026 shaved money off the budget ahead of a crucial city council vote on whether to keep pursuing the bid. They say they found some loose change in the original security budget, to end up with $495 million.

They also tweaked the plan and slashed the number of housing units it would build from 2,800 to 1,800. The athletes village planned for Victoria Park is off the books.

The housing component of the budget was cut to $490 million.

In order to make the whole thing work without asking the city to pay too much for its contribution, the BidCo said Calgary would be required to pony up $20 million in order to purchase a $200 million insurance contingency plan. The catch? No one knows if that kind of policy is available at this point.

If not, the BidCo says it will find further cuts.

A detailed budget is not publicly available and Calgary 2026 itself has said it's still working on the details of its revised plan.

Public spending

The latest breakdown of costs for each level of government is:

  • City — $390 million.
  • Canmore — $3 million.
  • Province — $700 million.
  • Federal government — $1.423 billion, plus $30 million in "leveraging initiatives."

Also included in the public funding totals is some creative math. There's the aforementioned insurance policy that may or may not exist, which contributes an additional $180 million to the BidCo's totals.

There's also $150 million in improvements to the Victoria Park area the city was already undertaking, which is counted as a city contribution on top of the $390 million.

The BidCo has said it has budgeted $1 billion in contingencies in case of cost overruns, which could be important given that no level of government is willing to pay more for any unexpected budget bulges — a regular event at Olympic Games.

Private spending

The rest of the money to host the Games comes from the International Olympic Committee, which has pledged $1.2 billion in cash and services to the winning host city, and projected revenues of $2.23 billion.

Why so cheap?

These are being billed as budget Games, mostly using refurbished old venues from the '88 Olympics to host events in 2026. It's part of a promised new direction for the International Olympic Committee called Agenda 2020 that seeks to reduce costs and impacts on hosts — both on chequebooks and the environment.

Calgary would be a test case and it's confident it can deliver a cheaper version of the mega sporting event.

So what do we get?

Unlike the Olympics of recent memory, there would not be billions spent on a slew of sleek new sports facilities. The BidCo plans to spend $403 million on new venues and $502 million on fixing up old ones. 

Calgary's proposal includes refurbishing McMahon Stadium, the speed skating oval and the Saddledome — or using a new arena should a deal come together between the city and the Flames organization. It also includes heading back to Nakiska for ski events and Canada Olympic Park for sledding and more, as well as fixing up the Canmore Nordic Centre, the BMO Centre and Big 4 Building. 

The proposal does include a new fieldhouse for Calgary, which would be used for figure skating and short-track speed skating, and a new mid-size arena.

Ski jumping is planned to take place in Whistler, B.C., rather than trying to fix the jumps at COP.

Curling location? TBD, but Calgary 2026 says it would be somewhere in southern Alberta. 

Also not in the budget is any infrastructure not directly related to the bid. Vancouver got a new train line and expanded highway for its Games, but there's no such push here. There's also no breakdown for costs of infrastructure that might be required for the Games but not directly tied to them — including any potential upgrades to existing city infrastructure.

The rewards

There's plenty of debate about just what hosting the Games would mean for Calgary. The bid corporation says Calgarians can expect a 10-to-1 return on their investment, equivalent to $4.4 billion in returns.

That claim has been called flawed.

What is certain is the city will get billions in government money than it would otherwise not get and will reap some direct benefits from temporary employment, tourism dollars and some new and upgraded sports infrastructure. If the legacy venues from 1988 are any indication, those venues would be well-used for winter sports training and competition.

The risks

As mentioned, no one is willing to step up and promise to cover any cost overruns. Calgary 2026 says it has budgeted $1 billion for contingencies, but with questions regarding an overly optimistic security budget and an already lean bid proposal, there are concerns of costs exceeding that fund.

On security alone, the bid corporation has budgeted almost $500 million less than what it cost during the Vancouver Games in 2010. 

Every single Olympics since 1968 has come in over budget, often costing more than twice as much as expected, according to a study out of Oxford University.

And while Calgary 2026 says every Olympics since 2010 has ended with a surplus, that study was narrowly focused and didn't look at the role of public dollars in subsidizing that surplus, over and above the initial public payout.

The vote

The plebiscite — officially called the Vote of the Electors — takes place on Nov. 13, but advance voting is on Nov. 6 and 7.

Voting takes place in all city wards. Residents can vote in any ward during advance polls, but on the 13th, you're required to vote within your designated ward.

There are multiple polls in each ward. You can check the list here

Advance voting polls are open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 13.

If you require a mail-in ballot and meet the city's eligibility requirements, you must submit your request to the city by noon on Nov. 13. Completed mail-in ballots have to be received no later than 4 p.m. on Nov. 13.

Ballots will be available in hospitals on voting day and there will be polls at Mount Royal University on Nov. 6 and the University of Calgary on Nov. 7, as well as advance polls at various seniors facilities.

Voters are required to provide some identification, which can be an identification card, bank or credit card statement, tax assessment notice, insurance policy or coverage card or statement of government benefits. Passports are not valid as your ID.

You must be 18, a Canadian citizen, a resident of Calgary and be a resident of Alberta for the six consecutive months prior to the vote.

You do not have to register ahead of time. 

More information can be found on the Calgary Elections website


LIVE EVENT: CBC Calgary Olympic Games Plebiscite Town Hall

If you live in Calgary, find out what you need to know before you cast your vote in the Nov. 13 plebiscite by tuning in to the CBC Calgary Olympic Games Plebiscite Town Hall.

Featuring a knowledgeable panel and hosted by the Calgary Eyeopener's David Gray, we will hear from both sides and take questions from the audience. Panellists include:

  • Calgary 2026 CEO Mary Moran.
  • Yes Calgary 2026 organizer Jason Ribeiro.
  • Coun. Evan Woolley, chair of city council's Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games assessment committee.
  • Economist with the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy, Trevor Tombe.
  • No Calgary Olympics organizer Jeanne Milne.
  • David Finch, associate professor at Mount Royal University's Bissett School of Business.

It'll take place at Calgary's new Central Library (800 3rd St. S.E.) on Wednesday, Nov. 7, starting at 6 p.m. All of the reserved tickets have been claimed, although there will be rush seating available at 6:15 p.m. as capacity allows.

Didn't get a ticket? Never fear, you can tune in by:

  • Joining our Facebook Live at facebook.com/cbccalgary, where you can ask questions and post comments.
  • Watching the Facebook Live in a story on our CBC Calgary website.
  • Listening in on CBC Radio One (99.1 FM or 1010 AM in Calgary), at cbc.ca/calgary or your CBC Radio App from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. MT.


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.

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