Midweek podcast: Calgary Olympics' failure to launch

This week on The House midweek podcast, Chris Hall hears from two Calgary city councillors with differing opinions on the city's failed Olympics bid, and an Olympics expert weighs in on whether the Games' reputation is too tarnished for taxpayers.
Russian gold medallist Alexander Legkov jumps on the podium at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. (Phil Noble/Reuters)
Listen to the full episode30:18

Hosting the Olympics used to be a prize that cities fought over. But now that Calgary has become the latest city to drop its bid for the 2026 Winter Games, it's looking more like a potential boondoggle politicians are less and less willing to take on.

"It was a conversation about what's the vision, and how do we craft a vision around this potential financial opportunity that makes sense — and I think that sort of failed to launch," said Gian-Carlo Carra, city councillor for Ward 9 and a supporter of Calgary's bid.

His colleague, councillor Sean Chu, has been an ardent "no" voice since the beginning of the Olympics debate nearly two years ago.

Chu said the main reason for the bid's failure came down to money.

"We have to have common sense," he told Chris Hall in an interview with Carra on CBC Radio's The House midweek podcast on Wednesday.

"People see through the mirage. People do want something solid, people don't want to see the feel-good. Right now our economy is very low and we want to get people to work. Get the pipeline built, that's priority number one."

Carra said the financial exposure involved in hosting the Olympics was top of mind for council.

"The big question on council really came down to whether the Games were a distraction from the core things we needed to pursue, or whether they were an opportunity to leverage more funding to do the things we know we need to do," he said.

"Municipal governments are challenged by the fact that they're generally net-revenue creators for the provinces and the federal government, and when we try and build the things that will sustain us into the future, we have to go to the other orders of government and basically ask for tax rebates."

The province spent $2 million hosting the plebiscite, and $10 million was spent on bid preparations out of a $30 million pool from the municipal, provincial and federal governments.

Legacy of the 1988 Olympics 

The No side won with 56.4 per cent of Tuesday's vote, according to the unofficial result of the non-binding plebiscite.

A total of 304,774 people cast ballots across the city, with 171,750 voting against a bid and 132,832 in favour. According to the city, 46,620 people voted in the advance polls and 8,001 mail-in ballots were received.

Carra said he was heartened to see the turnout and that the outcome was a decision "council will respect."

But the divisive debate over the Olympics is not unique to Calgary.

"The last nine plebiscites where the citizens of prospective hosting candidates were asked to cast their vote all had decisions in the negative," said Michael Heine, director of Western University's International Centre for Olympic Studies.

"So Calgary is simply number 10 in the fairly long list of negative outcomes so far."

Heine pointed to two factors explaining why cities like Calgary are reluctant to take on hosting duties.

"The tarnishing of the Olympic brand value and the International Olympic Committee's credibility through a number of scandals — one of which, the doping scandal, is still simmering away — has damaged the credibility of the event," Heine said.

"I think that in turn has diminished the enthusiasm for hosting. The second factor is simply money and the economic impact of hosting such a large-scale event."

With Calgary out of the running, that leaves just Stockholm and a joint Italian bid from Milan and Cortina d'Ampezzo bidding for the 2026 Winter Games. Sapporo, Japan, Sion, Switzerland and Graz, Austria have also all bowed out.

Bids will be submitted to the International Olympic Committee in January, with a host city being chosen in Lausanne, Switzerland, in June.


Indigenous congresswoman-elect makes history in U.S.

Deb Haaland, from the Laguna Pueblo tribe in New Mexico, is one of two Native American women to be the first ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. (Submitted by Deb Haaland for Congress)

Get out the welcome mat, Washington. Change is coming to the U.S. Congress in the form of at least 118 women elected to the House of Representatives in the nation's midterms last week.

Women won more seats in Congress this month than ever before. One of those women is New Mexico Democrat Deb Haaland, one of the first two Indigenous women to be elected to Congress. 

"There never having been a Native American woman in Congress, we're breaking a ceiling," Haaland told Chris Hall just days after her historic win.

"I understand what it's like to struggle, and I think my voice at the table might give a voice to folks who have also struggled."

Haaland admitted that, as one of just two Indigenous women in Congress for the first time, there's a lot of pressure on her to perform. But she said she's ready to tackle some of the pressing issues she cares about, including climate change and protecting the environment.

"I take that pressure with a lot of care and a lot of thoughtfulness," she said. "I ran on fighting climate change. I think it's our responsibility to move toward that."

We hear from two Calgary city councillors with differing opinions on the city's failed bid, and an Olympics expert weighs in on whether the golden allure of the games is too tarnished for taxpayers. Plus, U.S. congresswoman-elect Deb Haaland breaks down barriers as the first Indigenous woman elected to Congress. 30:18

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