Olympic plebiscite confusion remains as Calgary's top bureaucrat promises council more information

Calgary's city manager shares the concerns of several councillors that they're not getting the Olympic information they need.

Province clarified funding tied to the Olympic Games would need a plebiscite, not $10M for the bid process

Calgary city council is expected to vote in June on whether the city's bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic games will proceed. In this file photo, fans at the Calgary '88 Olympics cheer on athletes during the opening ceremonies. (Jonathan Utz/AFP/Getty Images)

Calgary's city manager shares the concerns some members of council have expressed that they aren't getting all the information they'd like about a prospective bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.  

On a few occasions in the past couple of weeks, some members of council have received information, while other elected officials were given different answers to their questions. 

When the federal government announced last week that it and the provincial government agreed to share the $30-million cost of preparing an Olympic bid, some councillors were informed about it hours later by the city. 

Jeff Fielding told CBC News he understands the concerns councillors have when they say they're not getting all the information they need in a timely manner.

"The negotiations were fast-paced and things were changing all the time, but that excuse really doesn't hold water," said Fielding.  "I'm expecting us to get better, quite frankly."

Complaints understandable

The city's top public servant said he doesn't begrudge elected officials for complaining.

"This is what I'm hearing from the council, that they would like to have better information from us well enough in advance and I think we can do a better job on that," said Fielding.

When asked when council can expect to see an improvement, Fielding responded with one word: "Immediately."

City manager Jeff Fielding says he doesn't blame council members for complaining about the quality and quantity of information they are receiving about a possible Olympic bid, and vows city administration will start doing better immediately. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

One of the councillors who raised concerns about the information he and other elected officials had received is rookie Coun. Jeromy Farkas.

While pleased that Fielding is taking a hands-on approach to fixing the situation, he said the problem is bigger than just the flow of information.

"It's the fact that we're often being given competing information," said Farkas. 

So for example, some members of council were told last month there would be enough time to host a plebiscite, while others were told there wasn't time to consult Calgarians on whether an Olympic bid should proceed.

NDP government wants a plebiscite

Last week, the provincial government agreed to give $10 million for the Olympic work to proceed, but said it was only on the condition that a plebiscite be held. Now the province says it meant funding for the Games, not the bid process.

But Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Thursday that the letter he has from Culture and Tourism Minister Ricardo Miranda said a plebiscite is a condition of funding for the bid corporation. 

No details on a plebiscite have been revealed.

Earlier this month, Nenshi said it would take at least four to six months to set up a plebiscite, leaving little wiggle room before the city must submit a bid to the International Olympic Committee in October.

The city clerk also said a non-binding vote would take six months to organize, and would cost nearly $2 million. 

Nenshi told the media Thursday if the province wants the city to hold a plebiscite, then the province should pay for it.

City council's priorities and finance committee is expecting to hear next week about administration's plan for consulting with Calgarians on an Olympic bid.

Farkas said city administrators are not proving to be key sources of information on Calgary's Olympic efforts.

"As an elected official, I still seem to be getting my updates from media."

As for who is to blame for the information flow — or lack thereof — Farkas refused to point any fingers.

Chu gives Fielding 'benefit of the doubt'

Another Olympic skeptic on council, Sean Chu, was also pleased to hear the city manager is aware of the problem and planning to take steps to improve things.

"I have to give him the benefit of the doubt and I believe that Jeff Fielding has been doing a good job," said Chu. 

He was concerned after the province attached the plebiscite condition to its funding, when he learned through the media someone from the city told the provincial government it would meet that condition.

"The minister himself, provincially, he said, 'Yes, the person from the city told us that, yes, we are going to have a plebiscite.'"  

However, Chu points out council has not voted on the issue.

This week, the International Olympic Committee announced that seven cities including Calgary are expressing an interest in bidding for the 2026 Olympics.

City council is expecting to vote this June on whether a Calgary bid will proceed.

The host city of the 2026 games will be announced in September 2019.