Federal, provincial governments reach agreement on funding proposal for Calgary 2026 Olympic bid

The federal and provincial governments have reached an agreement to consider a funding proposal that would mean the public dollars are in place to fund the 2026 Winter Olympics in Calgary, if a hesitant city council agrees to sign on.

The announcement came late on the same day a recommendation came forward to cancel the bid

Calgary's bid corporation announced that two levels of government have agreed in principle on a funding proposal for the 2026 Olympic Games. The ball is now in the city's court. (Jonathan Utz/AFP/Getty Images)

The federal and provincial governments have reached an agreement to consider a funding proposal that would mean the public dollars are in place to fund the 2026 Winter Olympics in Calgary, if a hesitant city council agrees to sign on. 

The future of the bid, and the plebiscite asking whether Calgarians support it, was set to be decided by city council starting at 9:30 a.m. MT Wednesday.

The Calgary 2026 bid corporation sent out an announcement at 10 p.m. MT Tuesday that included a letter saying a revised total of $2.875 billion of required public funds, in 2018 dollars, would be met.

It was signed by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, federal Minister of Sport Kirsty Duncan and included a space for Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi's signature.

The announcement comes late on the same day the chair of the City of Calgary's Olympic assessment committee recommended to council that it end its pursuit of the 2026 Winter Games and cancel a plebiscite scheduled for Nov. 13.

"This is a proposal that makes sense and is a good deal for Calgarians. I'm confident we and our government partners can agree to move forward and reach an agreement in principle," said Scott Hutcheson, board chair of the Calgary 2026 bid corporation, in the emailed release.

"I know city council understands how important this is to Calgary, that they know what's at stake here, and that they will show their strong leadership and allow Calgarians to decide the outcome of the Olympic and Paralympic bid at a plebiscite Nov. 13."

Bid's future up in the air

Coun. Evan Woolley, who chairs Calgary's Olympic assessment committee, recommended the city kill its bid on Tuesday, and hadn't changed his mind in light of the new funding proposal.

"More than anybody on council, I have worked diligently and have been super excited about the opportunity," he said. "I see very little in today's letter that will change my vote."

A day earlier, he said it wouldn't make sense to move forward without a funding agreement in place between municipal, provincial and federal levels of government — something they up until now hadn't been able to forge amid public spats last weekend and a marathon negotiation session Tuesday.

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 just two weeks.

His comments on Tuesday 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.

Revised cost to host

Calgary 2026 Olympic bid corporation estimates the Winter Games would cost $5.23 billion, with about $3 billion of that needing to come from the three levels of government.

But the letter states that the new funding proposal is "based on a revised Games concept with a total public funding request of $2.875 billion," but includes no word on how this lower cost would impact the draft hosting plan.

Calls to Calgary's mayor and the head of the city's bid assessment committee were not returned Tuesday night.

James Millar, communications director for the Calgary 2026 bid corporation, said the lowered cost was because they were able to find "efficiencies" in the budget.

"Discussions are still ongoing with the city, but we felt it was important once we got the confirmation from the province and federal government this evening, just to be fully transparent, put out the update and put out the numbers best we could this evening in lieu of knowing there was a vote tomorrow morning at council about this matter," Millar said.

Millar said the efficiencies included lowering the estimate of how much security would cost, based on revised numbers from the RCMP.

"We think we have a good deal for Calgarians," said Millar. 

The letter sets out the proposed contributions from each level of government:

  • From the City of Calgary, $370 million in cash, plus another $20 million to cover a premium on a $200-million insurance policy against cost over-runs, for a total of $390 million.
  • From the City of Calgary and Government of Alberta, $150 million in pre-authorized improvements to Victoria Park and access to the Calgary Stampede grounds.
  • From the Government of Alberta, $700 million in cash.
  • From the Government of Canada, $1.423 billion, which matches the amounts committed to the core event costs by the province, city and Town of Canmore; also, $30 million in "leveraging initiatives" which the letter said are identified in the hosting plan.

The $700-million figure matched an earlier pledge from the province, while the federal government had previously said it would contribute about $1.75 billion in 2026 dollars ($1.5 billion in today's dollars). The federal contribution would hold only if the city and province's total contribution matched, the city said.

Coun. Jeromy Farkas, who has been an outspoken critic of the bid, posted on social media that the funding proposal "invites more questions than answers."

He said he was worried about where costs had been cut in the draft plan, adding that he dislikes the idea of the city carrying risk of cost overruns.

The province has also said its money was contingent on Calgarians supporting the bid in the Nov. 13 plebiscite, regardless of turnout.


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.


With files from Scott Dippel, Carolyn Dunn, and The Canadian Press.

About the Author

Sarah Rieger

Reporter

Sarah Rieger joined CBC Calgary as an online journalist in 2017. You can reach her by email at sarah.rieger@cbc.ca, or securely via the Signal messaging app at 403.542.1458.