Calgary Olympics No vote sets city looking to a future without the Winter Games

Citizens were asked in Tuesday's non-binding plebiscite if they wanted to host a Winter Games again. Out of 767,734 eligible voters, 304,774 voted and 171,750 said No.

City, sport leaders look for other solutions to spirit, venue, housing improvements promised by Games

Alberta Culture and Tourism Minister Ricardo Miranda spoke Wednesday about the plebiscite results. The province has rescinded the funding for a potential Olympics following the No vote. (CBC)

Having had hopes dashed for a 2026 Winter Games, Calgary's leaders and boosters are seeking a way forward for the city.

Citizens were asked in Tuesday's non-binding plebiscite if they wanted to host a Winter Games again. Out of 767,734 eligible voters, 304,774 voted and 171,750 said No.

Coun. Druh Farrell, who was on the No side, said people are craving a vision for their city — but clearly not one that included an Olympic bid.

"We should take that and run with it and work with Calgarians on what Calgary looks like in the future," she said.

The results won't be declared official until Friday, with council expected to address the results Monday. City council has the final say on whether Calgary proceeds with a bid.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he believes the 2026 Olympic dream is indeed dead, and he would not support moving ahead with the bid against the public's wishes.

Calgary had received promises of financial support from the federal and provincial governments, the latter of which was tied to a Yes vote.

Alberta Culture and Tourism Minister Ricardo Miranda says the provincial government respects the decision of Calgarians.

Speaking Wednesday in Calgary, Miranda thanked the government, public and private individuals who worked on the Yes and No campaigns, as well as those who hammered out a proposal and got information to the public 30 days before this week's vote.

The Alberta government had made its funding of a bid conditional on a plebiscite and provided $2 million to pay for it. Miranda confirmed the promised $700 million in funding for an Olympic Games would be withheld following the No vote.

He also tried to calm fears that public funding for the Games would have jeopardized other public projects.

"One of the things we were really clear about when we made our $700-million commitment was that we will not sacrifice any other projects that were already approved or were potentially being approved," Miranda told reporters at the press conference. "The $700 million was not going to affect those different projects that would be beneficial to the city and the province itself."

Miranda called the vote "a success" because Calgarians had an opportunity to have their say, which he said was not an easy decision to make.

"While this may not be the time to pursue an Olympic bid, there will be other opportunities in the future, and when the time is right and those opportunities come, I am confident our community will embrace them," Miranda said.

  • Watch the video below to hear the minister's full comments.

The International Olympic Committee said that it would continue to work with Milan/Cortina d'Ampezzo and Stockholm in a search for a host city following Calgary's rejection of submitting a bid.

"It comes as no surprise following the political discussions and uncertainties right up until the last few days," a spokesperson for the IOC said in a statement.

"It is disappointing that the arguments about the sporting, social and long-term benefits of hosting the Olympic Games did not sway the vote," the statement added.

Funding questions and changing opinions of councillors likely swayed some people to opposing the bid, political scientist Lori Williams said. The chair of the city's Olympic bid assessment committee, Coun. Evan Woolley, for example, questioned who would cover budget shortfalls earlier this month.

"That I think had to carry an awful lot of weight in the minds of some people where they just said, 'Look, a lot of uncertainties here, this could cost a lot, we know Ottawa's not going to cover the shortfall,'" Williams said. "People just said, 'We don't know enough. We're being asked to commit too much without enough information.'"

She said some have suggested the IOC offering to cover those shortfalls, in particular for security costs, from Games revenues may have helped the cause.

Hopes for future Canadian Olympics

Gripped by disappointment, Canadian Olympic Committee president Tricia Smith remained hopeful that the country will still host the Games in the future.

"Sport in a positive sense really brings a country together," Smith said Wednesday morning. "I think it's just a part of us, our humanity. So I suspect we will see another bid from Canada."

Smith took a red-eye flight back to Toronto after trying to drum up support in Calgary on Tuesday. However, a majority of voters said No to a potential Calgary bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games, with 56.4 per cent of those who went to the polls casting a dissenting vote.

"This was an opportunity for Calgary to really sort of lead the way and show how it could be done, but we have to respect the process and respect the result of the vote," Smith told The Canadian Press.

Members of the "Yes" campaign react to the results of a plebiscite on whether the city of Calgary should proceed with a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics, which was a resounding "No". (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The group representing Canada's Paralympic athletes also said it was disappointed but respected the decision.

Marc-Andre Fabien, president of the Canadian Paralympic Committee, said a home Games would have "united the nation" and energized people across the country. In a statement, he said he's pleased "the people of Calgary had the opportunity to share their voice."

In Calgary, former Olympic hockey coach and longtime athletics leader Dale Henwood said the city should still try to maintain its position as a premiere winter sport training venue without the promised Olympic cash.

"Very much disappointed, and I think it's a lost opportunity for us," Henwood told Radio-Canada. "But we now have to look at where we in sport want to go the next six or seven years. We won't be able to do it based on a home Games so we're going to have to find some other ways."

Other groups are also upset at the lost funding, like the Town of Canmore, which would have received hundreds of affordable housing units through the construction of an athletes village.

New bid?

Another Games bid, however, may not be the solution. The chair of Calgary's bid corporation doesn't think Calgary should immediately shift its focus to chasing the 2030 Winter Games.

Scott Hutcheson says the city needs to decompress and re-assess.

"I don't think it's 2030," Hutcheson said. "I think you've got to put your pencil down for seven years. You don't put it down for three years.

"Use the work later, but you can't put a city through this every four years. My view would be let it go, accept the result, move on and come back with a bid maybe in seven years."

Building Calgary

The vice-president of Calgary Economic Development says he hopes the agency can build on the remaining enthusiasm to further its vision for the city, which involved building up key sectors of the economy, from food to energy.

"It's really quite exciting over the last few months the number of people that have come together to say, 'I'm behind this. I'm willing to help and these are the things that I can do,'" Court Ellingson said.

Likewise, Tourism Calgary has turned its attention to forging the city's future, although spokesperson Cindy Ady declined to specify the projects getting underway.

Tourism Calgary was involved with the Yes campaign, which Ady said was completely privately funded.

"We're going to pick our tools back up and go to work on some things that we think are exciting and we think will add a lot of value to Calgary," she said.

The IOC will accept bids in early January and the election of the host city is set to be finalized in June.

Pyeongchang, South Korea, served as host of the 2018 Winter Games. Beijing will host in 2022.

With files from The Canadian Press and the CBC's Rachel Ward and Reid Southwick.