Environmental pains, civic pride gains for Calgary outlined in Olympic cost-benefit analysis

With advance plebiscite voting on whether Calgary should host the Olympics already underway, city council's assessment committee heard Tuesday some of the pros and cons of a bid for the 2026 Games.

City retained Ernst & Young to summarize pros and cons of a bid for the 2026 Games

A pedestrian walks past vote signs outside a rally in support of the 2026 Winter Olympic bid in Calgary on Monday. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

With advance plebiscite voting on whether Calgary should host the Olympics already underway, city council's assessment committee heard Tuesday some of the pros and cons of a bid for the 2026 Games.

City administration had retained consultancy firm Ernst & Young to put together a cost-benefit analysis on the Games' impact for Calgary, Canmore and Whistler.

The firm looked at both monetary and non-monetary impacts in five categories, and found two would have net costs and three would have net benefits. The same framework was used to assess the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said while the analysis was "narrow," it shows the Games are positive for Calgary.

"The report says by and large the benefits would far outweigh the costs," he said following the assessment committee meeting.

Net cost: government spending

The report found there would be an estimated net cost of between $65 and $575 million spent by the provincial and federal governments.

It weighed both projected capital and operating expenditures against estimated revenues, but didn't include contributions from the City of Calgary and Town of Canmore.

The exclusion is because the local monetary contribution will be spent in the region regardless of whether or not the Games go ahead.

However, the projected money from provincial and federal governments may not end up in Calgary unless the city hosts the Games.

Net benefit: residential consumers

The report predicted there would be a $230-million to $570-million benefit to locals in 2018 dollars, and also benefits like increased happiness, enjoyment of the games and new venues, which can't be quantified.

However, it said there could also be dissatisfaction if there are disruptions caused by construction in advance of the Games. 

The researchers based these estimates on interviews done after the 2012 Summer Games in London.

The report found benefits for residents, economic growth and social outcomes, but negatives for government finances and the environment. (Ernst & Young)

Net cost: the environment

The Games would have a low-to-medium impact on the environment, the report found. 

Despite a pitch for a less extravagant version of the Games, it will be hard to mitigate the increased carbon emissions and waste generated.

    Net benefit: economic development

    Ernst & Young predicted there could be higher GDP, job creation, tax revenue, increased tourism and branding for the city, all positives for Calgary if the city hosts the Games.

    However, the company was not able tp provide a number figure for what it could mean for Calgary's economy, as it didn't have enough time.

    The firm had just about a month to put together a report instead of its usual four to six month timeline, meaning it was a bit "rushed," the committee was told.

    Net benefit: social outcomes

    The report found there was a low net positive for social outcomes to the city, like increased affordable housing, health benefits from increased participation in sports and promotion of volunteerism.

    But it said there could also be some costs, like people displaced due to construction and a lack of inclusiveness in the Games itself.

    The company stressed that the analysis isn't meant to calculate a definitive return on investment number, but rather provide a framework for people to understand the different trade-offs in a project of this scope.

    "One person might value the financial costs more than increased affordable housing, while another person might feel that civic pride is an important factor in their decision making process," said Kent Kaufield, managing partner with Ernst & Young.

    "The weighting of each of these accounts is personal."

    Coun. Druh Farrell said she felt the information came too late to be useful to Calgarians, as advance voting on the non-binding plebiscite has already begun, with the official voting day on Nov. 13.

    "I'm not even sure what we do with this information in the eleventh hour while people are voting," she said. 

    The full report and the firm's presentation to committee is available on the city's 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, 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 or your CBC Radio App from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. MT.


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