Calgary Olympic plebiscite would happen in October at the earliest: report

A report set to be presented to council suggests the earliest Calgary could hold a plebiscite on whether or not to bid on the 2026 Winter Olympic Games would be October 2018.

Council to hear report on public engagement, plebiscite plans on Tuesday

Calgary, which hosted the Winter Olympics in 1988, is set to discuss whether or not to hold a plebiscite on a 2026 Olympic bid on Tuesday. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

A report set to be presented to council suggests the earliest Calgary could hold a plebiscite on whether or not to bid on the 2026 Winter Olympic Games would be October 2018. 

The plebiscite's timing would have to be agreed upon by the city, the province and the federal government according to the report, which is set to be presented to the city's priorities and finance committee on Tuesday.

The shortest time frame before a public vote could be held would be 120 days, according to the local election act, but the report suggests the complexity of holding a plebiscite in a city as geographically large as Calgary would require a minimum of six months, and cost approximately $1.96 million. 

Plebiscite needs to be at right time: Nenshi

However, the report also notes that the timing of the plebiscite would be contingent on the multi-party agreement being signed and the bid book published. The Calgary bid book is due in January 2019, a date Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said would in his opinion be too late for a plebiscite.

"My sense is, and I feel like a broken record .... I'm not opposed to a plebiscite but it needs to be at exactly the right time," Nenshi said Friday. 

The International Olympic Committee is set to invite cities to become candidates in October 2018, and a host city will be chosen in September 2019. 

A young girl learns to skate on the ice at the 1988 Calgary Olympic Plaza on a warm day in Calgary in 2014. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Nenshi said he felt October would be an ideal window for a decision, but said council will still have to agree on whether or not a plebiscite is needed.

"If council says next week, 'you know, we're not interested in a plebiscite,' we have to have a real good conversation as to whether we can continue or not."

The vote would be non-binding. 

The election's returning officer would work with an outside consultant to develop a question, and both "for and against" explanations, the report said. The question and explanations would be provided to council for approval before the vote. 

The costs of a plebiscite include:

  • $1,000,000 to hire and train 3,000 workers.
  • $400,000 on public education and mailing household voter cards.
  • $100,000 to develop a question and translate it into multiple languages.
  • $100,000 to print ballots and forms.
  • $80,000 to rent polling locations.

Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci was noncommittal on Friday when asked if the province would fund a plebiscite.

"We'll have further discussions with the City of Calgary and Government of Canada with regard to the public engagement that will necessarily need to go on and how that will be paid for," Ceci said. 

The province has said additional funding past the $10 million it has already committed would be contingent on the city holding a plebiscite to assess public opinion on a bid. 

Along with a plebiscite, the report also recommends three proposed public engagement programs, which would be coordinated by a third-party firm, and would gather feedback from Calgarians, Indigenous groups and Canmore residents. 

"Getting to the 'why' helps the City understand all of the challenges and benefits, the vision and the legacy Calgarians want to see as well as their fears and/or hesitation," the report reads.

The engagement would run from April to September 2018, and would be funded by the bid corporation, assuming a bid corporation is functional and is able to develop the strategic approach for both public input-gathering and communications, the report said.

It would involve three elements — public education and input-gathering, strategic engagement consisting of focused discussions with high-interested stakeholders, and communications to spread knowledge and combat misinformation.

Monthly reports would be made to each funding party, and feedback collected would be provided to stakeholders.