Canada's new minister of sport pushes for Calgary Olympic bid

As Canada's minister of sport and persons with disabilities, Calgary-born Kent Hehr is working behind the scenes looking into what the city needs to move forward with an Olympic bid.

Kent Hehr was born in Calgary and thinks the 1988 host would benefit from doing it again

Fans cheer and wave flags during the opening ceremony of the Calgary Olympics in 1988. (Jonathan Utz/AFP/Getty Images)

Kent Hehr's eyes light up when he talks about a potential Olympic bid coming from the city in which he was born and raised.

As Canada's minister of sport and persons with disabilities, Hehr is working behind the scenes, looking into what Calgary needs to move forward with a bid. 

"I know an Olympic bid, deep in my heart, would be something that would be extraordinary," Hehr said in an interview with CBC Sports. "But you have to balance it in a real way."

"We're always excited when communities like Calgary are thinking about putting their hat in the ring about bringing the Olympic Games to this nation," said Hehr, who assumed the minister of sport job in August.

A couple of weeks ago Hehr wrote to Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi and city council, asking for more details surrounding a potential bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

"We want to know what the benefits are and what was to be expected to at least ensure that they know our door is open," Hehr said.

Hehr said he has people in his cabinet office working with city staff, gathering as many details as possible "so we're ready and able to proceed. I just need more information from city council."

Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities Kent Hehr is an advocate for his native Calgary to bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Calgary city council recently voted 9-4 in favour of spending an additional $1 million in order to further fund a bid exploration for the 2026 Winter Games, with an additional $1 million to be released if the provincial and federal governments get on board. 

"Like me, they have visions of what an Olympic bid could mean to the city. But they're doing their due diligence as well," Hehr said.

Legacy of 1988

Hehr believes that, to fully understand the legacy left by the 1988 Calgary Olympics, people need to first look at the atmosphere around the city when officials were deciding whether to bid for those Games. He said there was a lot of economic uncertainty in the city during the late 1970s and early '80s and there were many people who didn't want the Olympics in the city.

"There were lots of naysayers around that as well, " he said. "But the legacy that was left, the opportunities it gave kids in the community to develop, I think were well worth the angst and the time."

Hehr was playing junior hockey in Lloydminster during the '88 Games and recalls his jealousy over his family and friends being able to bask in the spirit of those Olympics. His sister took part in the opening and closing ceremonies, while his friends all got jobs associated with the Games.

But while Hehr couldn't be in the city during it all, he said he's been able to fully appreciate what it meant to the city all these years later because of the way people still talk about it.

"The 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary are still a model of success on how to build a great Games and to leave a legacy of infrastructure and community building," he said. "Can we actually do this? Can we put our shoulder to the wheel and pull this off? That's what people wondered and I think the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

"Calgary definitely did do it in 1988."

Hehr said he can imagine another Olympics in the city providing that same level of pride not only for Calgarians, but for the province and the country. And every time he speaks glowingly about a potential bid, he's always sure to follow it up with a balanced and measured approach.

"Of course you look at all of the possibilities and they're exciting but you have to look at it in a real fashion," he said. "Do the numbers make sense too? We'll this lead your community in a better place given all the intangibles surrounding the Olympic bid?"

Next steps

Calgary's city council has said if the other levels of government don't formally support the bid, council will again debate moving forward in February. At this point, Hehr is making it clear the federal government is at the very least ready to look at possibilities and funding models. 

Hehr said this push for a bid is going to have to first come from Calgary and that he's awaiting many of the details he highlighted in the letter he wrote a couple of weeks ago.

"They want to make sure they take a reasonable, fair approach in a pragmatic fashion that balances out the realities of the public purse and the realities of moving forward," he said.

The IOC has pushed the bid timeline back, giving Calgary more time to compile research and explore a potential bid. The bid book should be completed by late 2018 and must be submitted to the IOC in January 2019. A formal bid is expected to cost $25-30 million.

Hehr knows there are still a lot of missing details to the bid, but that it's heading in the right direction.

"I'm in this business to build community, to build people up to give people an opportunity to succeed," Hehr said. "Calgary has a tremendous entrepreneurial spirit and has a tremendous volunteer spirit and it has a tremendous amount of pride in understanding on sporting events and what they mean to communities."


Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.


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