Calgary council to decide — again — whether to continue 2026 Olympic bid
Growing number of Olympic opponents on council already predicting support for a bid has dropped
City council will decide next week — once again — whether Calgary will continue work on a potential bid for the 2026 winter Olympics.
Council's priorities and finance committee met on Tuesday to talk about administration's plan for a public engagement program that would take place over the next four months.
After several councillors expressed concern about effectiveness of the $1.9 million program, long-time Olympic skeptic Coun. Druh Farrell suggested it's time to test council's will to continue with the entire project.
- What's left of the '88 Calgary Olympic Games, 30 years later
- Federal, provincial governments fund creation of Calgary Olympic bid corporation
The committee voted 9-1 to refer the question of continuing the Olympic work to next week's meeting of city council.
Some of the growing number of Olympic opponents on council are already predicting openly that support for a bid has dropped to the point that it will not continue.
When asked if he thought the Olympic project is dead, Coun. Peter Demong said, "It's kind of pre-determined."
Coun. Joe Magliocca said it's time to pull the plug on the idea that Calgary should bid for the 2026 games.
"We can't just be spending more money," said Magliocca.
"You know, let's not spend an extra $2 million for a plebiscite. We can use that for a lot of potholes we could be filling in the next couple of week."
But Mayor Naheed Nenshi does not think this is the time for council to head for the exits.
He said that getting the Olympics would be a tremendous opportunity for Calgary to leverage huge sums of money from the federal and provincial money.
That cash could go toward improving Calgary's aging sports facilities.
But the opportunity would be gone if the Olympic project is wrapped up by council.
"It's not a good time to take the off-ramp. Give us until June to see the money and then we can take the off-ramp if the money doesn't work," said Nenshi.
A report done by the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee (CBEC) last year said the Olympics could cost $4.6 billion dollars and have revenues of $2.2 billion.
That $2.4 billion gap would be closed by the three levels of government, with the bulk expected to come from Ottawa.
City council voted last month to support the creation of a bid corporation. That vote was 8-6 and was contingent on the federal and provincial governments chipping in $20 million to support a bid.
They agreed to sign on. But now, even some of the councillors who supported the creation of a bid corporation are having second thoughts.
Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart said she's disappointed with the entire process.
She said council had no say on the four volunteers picked to run the engagement process or their terms of reference. She also questioned why being neutral wasn't part of the criteria for the $1.9 million public engagement process.
To her mind, council needed to be involved "to ensure that they absolutely were arms-length, that they were neutral. They were putting, sort of, the fox in charge of the chicken coop."
'Stop the bleeding'
Colley-Urquhart was also displeased administration gave a sole-sourced contract to a consultant to develop the plan.
She said it's time to "stop the bleeding".
The veteran councillor wasn't the only one unhappy with how the Olympic project is being handled.
Nenshi told the committee that "we've done a lousy job."
When asked what he was referring to, Nenshi said "Look, there's been so many dropped balls and mis-steps and incorrect reports filed. This is very irritating and certainly I'm as frustrated as anybody."
So far, council has spent $6 million on its Olympic work and the bid corporation hasn't been formed yet.
If council votes to keep the project alive next week, it will have to decide what should happen with the engagement program.
And if there should be a plebiscite.
The International Olympic Committee has seven cities including Calgary that have expressed an interest in hosting the 2026 games.
A decision on a host city will be made by the IOC in September 2019.