Calgary

Chair of Calgary Olympic committee recommends pulling plug on 2026 bid

Evan Woolley, the head of the city committee assessing Calgary's bid for the 2026 Winter Games says there's no funding agreement in place with other levels of government and no way for Calgarians to make an informed decision by the Nov. 13 plebiscite and has recommended cancelling it.

City Coun. Evan Woolley said the clock has run out for Calgarians to make an informed decision

Coun. Evan Woolley, who chairs Calgary's Olympic assessment committee, says there's no longer enough time for Calgarians to make an informed decision on the bid before a plebiscite scheduled for mid-November. (Mike Symington/CBC)

The chair of the City of Calgary's Olympic assessment committee has recommended to council that it end its pursuit of the 2026 Winter Games and cancel a scheduled plebiscite. 

Coun. Evan Woolley said Tuesday it doesn't make sense to move forward without a funding agreement in place between municipal, provincial and federal levels of government — something they haven't been able to forge amid public spats on the weekend and a marathon negotiation session Monday.

Woolley said he was "deeply disappointed" but that with the funding costs still not nailed down, it wasn't fair to expect Calgary voters to make an informed decision in the plebiscite scheduled for Nov. 13. 

"The clock has run out, and I think it's time to move on," Woolley said. 

His comments came after the Olympic assessment committee met behind closed doors for four hours, finally deciding to send Woolley's motion with a series of recommendations on killing the bid to council for a vote.

If 10 of council's 15 members vote in support of the motion on Wednesday, Calgary's Olympic bid is dead.

But Scott Hutcheson, the chair of the Calgary 2026 bid corporation, said the discussion Tuesday at city hall was productive and that negotiations are continuing.

"We remain confident an agreement will be reached," he said in an emailed statement. "We know thousands of Calgarians understand what's at stake and the importance of deciding the outcome themselves." 

Funding gap 'too large'

Neither Woolley nor Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi would say how much the city was willing to spend in order to close the funding gap that emerged after the province and federal government announced how much they would contribute to the bid.

But Woolley said Tuesday that "the gap was too large."

Calgary 2026 Olympic bid corporation estimates the Winter Games would cost $5.23 billion, with $3 billion of that coming from the public purse.

The province earlier committed $700 million.

On Friday, news broke that the federal government would provide up to $1.75 billion in 2026 dollars for the Games — about $1.5 billion in today's dollars, or half the needed amount. But Ottawa said that commitment would hold only if the city and province's total contribution matched it. That would mean the city would be chipping in $800 million, an amount that Nenshi has called "a bit too high" and "not a good deal."

Negotiations went late into the night Monday

That sparked outrage from Nenshi and Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci, with both saying they understood there wouldn't be a matching condition attached. Ceci accused the federal government of negotiating in "bad faith."

The federal government countered that it had made clear since March 2018 that it would fund up to 50 per cent of the public contribution — which it said was in line with its policy on funding for host cities.

In a brief statement before the meeting went in-camera, Nenshi said negotiations with other levels of government went late into the night Monday. 

Speaking to reporters in Parliament, federal Minister of Sport Kirsty Duncan echoed Nenshi's comments. 

"Myself, our officials and all levels of government worked late into the night, into the wee hours of the morning, and we are very hopeful," she said earlier Tuesday.

But Woolley said it wasn't enough, after the Olympic assessment committee's meeting wrapped.

"We had a number of positive conversations that signalled that they were willing to go beyond their 50 per cent. There are a number of examples of other sporting events where they have exceeded their policy, and obviously, I'm disappointed that today we don't have that," he told reporters.

Nenshi said he would have more to say at Wednesday's council meeting.

One recommendation in the motion calls for the city manager and the chief financial officer to report back to council on the total costs spent on pursuing a bid. 

  • Federal Minister of Sport Kirsty Duncan told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday that the federal government had made clear "since March 2018" that it would fund up to 50 per cent of the public contribution. Listen to the interview below.

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 coming to the CBC Calgary Olympic Games Plebiscite Town Hall. It'll take place at Calgary's new Central Library (800 3rd St. S.E.) on Wednesday, Nov. 7, starting at 6 p.m.

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 will include Calgary 2026 CEO Mary Moran, economist Trevor Tombe and other guests, still to be named. 

This event is free but you must must reserve your spot. Tickets are available here

Can't make it in person? Join our Facebook Live at facebook.com/cbccalgary, where you can ask questions and post comments. You can also listen 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

Former CBC digital journalist

Drew Anderson was a digital journalist with CBC Calgary from 2015 to 2021 and is a third-generation Calgarian.

With files from Scott Dippel, Michelle Bellefontaine and the Calgary Eyeopener

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