Everything you wanted to know about the Calgary Olympic vote
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Everything you wanted to know about the Calgary Olympic vote (but were afraid to ask)
As I'm typing this, Calgarians are voting in a plebiscite asking whether they want their city to continue pursuing the 2026 Winter Olympics. In case you haven't been following this story, here are answers to some questions you may have, starting with the most basic:
What's a plebiscite?
It's like a referendum, but the results are non-binding (more on that later). In this one, voters are being asked this question: "Are you for or are you against Calgary hosting the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games?"
When will we know the result?
Polls close at 8 p.m. Mountain Time and results are expected around 10 p.m. (that's midnight Eastern).
So the city will do whatever the people say?
Depends. As mentioned, the plebiscite is non-binding. So the final say goes to the 15 members of Calgary's city council. It might be politically risky for them to go against the will of the people, but a slim majority could give them some leeway.
Let's say the vote comes out to 50 per cent plus one in favour of hosting the Olympics. Council may say that's not a strong enough mandate and shut the bid down. But if the "no" side wins by any margin, the bid is probably dead. It would be dicey to try and force it through, and the Alberta government has said it'll only chip in the $700 million it promised if Calgarians vote "yes."
What's the case for hosting the Olympics?
The "yes" side is touting both tangible and intangible benefits. No one can say for sure how big the economic bump will be (and that "$10 back for every $1 spent" line you may have heard definitely sounds fishy) but it's not nothing. Before the Games, you get some construction projects to build new venues and infrastructure or refurbish existing stuff. During the Games, you get tens of thousands of visitors pouring into the city for a month. After the Games, you get to keep those facilities you built or renovated. For Calgary, that'll include making things more accessible for the Paralympics, which weren't part of the package when the city hosted the Olympics in 1988.
It takes more imagination to buy into the intangibles. There's the hope of a morale boost for a town that's been hit hard by plummeting oil prices, and the Olympics are a chance for Calgary to promote itself on the world stage. The Games worked pretty well for Calgary in '88. That was a long time ago (and the Games were a lot cheaper and easier to pull off then), but the power of nostalgia is working in the "yes" side's favour.
What's the case against hosting the Olympics?
Mostly that it's too expensive. Olympic Games are notorious for going over budget, and even if you take the Calgary bid corporation's estimate at face value, 2026 will cost more than $5 billion. They're asking taxpayers to cover about half that — including $390 million from Calgary and more than $1.4 billion from the federal government, plus Alberta's end. Critics say the economic impact doesn't justify that price tag.
Ironically, some opponents have criticized the bid corporation's budget for being too skinny. It's great that you'll refurbish old venues, they say, but that means less shiny new stuff for the city to enjoy after the Games — like maybe a new arena for the Calgary Flames. Then there's the whole matter of doing business with the International Olympic Committee, which has been plagued by corruption scandals.
Which side will win?
I'm a betting man, and I wouldn't put a dollar on either side. Credible polling data is hard to come by — if it exists at all. The only concrete number we have is the 8-7 margin by which council voted a couple of weeks ago to halt the bid process and cancel the plebiscite. It's only still alive because a super-majority of 10 votes was needed for the motion to pass.
Whichever way the vote goes, tomorrow's edition of The Buzzer will break down what comes next for Calgary, the rest of Canada and the 2026 Olympics.
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