CALGARY—Calgary’s bid for the 2026 Olympics may not survive the week.
City council’s Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games assessment committee is set to meet Tuesday morning after conflict over how the city, province and feds would split hosting costs was revealed in the media late last week.
City councillors weren’t optimistic about the 2026 Olympic bid’s future on Monday, with at least four members of council saying they want the process stopped. Ward 8 councillor and committee chair Evan Woolley said the city had “passed the deadline to communicate a fiscally responsible deal to Calgarians.”
Unless “something dramatically changes from the other orders of government,” he said late Monday afternoon, “I have a hard time seeing how this passes through tomorrow.”
If the committee passes a motion to stop work on the bid, it will still have to go through a full vote of council.
Councillors voted to push ahead with the bid process in April and again in September this year.
After weeks of waiting for a final cost-sharing agreement between the city, province and Ottawa, the parties appeared to be in deadlock over the weekend after reports emerged Friday that the federal government would contribute up to $1.75 billion to the cost of hosting — in 2026 dollars.
Under the federal hosting policy for international sporting events, Calgary would get the money only if the city and province increased their contributions to match Ottawa’s total amount.
The provincial government announced earlier this month that they would give a “maximum” of $700 million for Olympic costs, with conditions that included a “yes” vote in the plebiscite and “increased transparency requirements.” Finance Minister Joe Ceci insisted in recent days that the amount would not be increased.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi said earlier in October that if the city has to contribute more money than the province to Olympic hosting costs “that is not a good deal.”
The International Olympic Committee is set to offer $925 million (U.S.) to the 2026 host city. During the wait for the federal government to reveal the share of funding it would offer, Premier Rachel Notley and Nenshi suggested the IOC’s amount could increase.
But during a visit to Calgary last week, an IOC official said the organization couldn’t chip in any more than its stated commitment.
The Calgary Olympic Bid Corporation, or Calgary 2026, appointed Mary Moran as CEO in late July and publicly presented their draft hosting plan on Sept. 11. At the time, BidCo estimated the cost of hosting at about $5.2 billion, with $3 billion coming from taxpayer funds. The plan included updating Calgary’s aging venues, constructing athletes’ villages that would be converted into affordable housing, and building a new field house and mid-sized arena. Canmore, Alta., and Whistler, B.C. would also be involved in hosting some Olympic events.
City council voted 12-3 at that point in favour of going forward to the plebiscite. Ward 7 Councillor Druh Farrell, Ward 2 Councillor Joe Magliocca and Ward 4 Councillor Sean Chu voted against. Some other councillors expressed doubt about going ahead with the bid, but voted in favour of giving Calgarians a chance to weigh in.
Calgary 2026 has also been promoting an Olympic bid as a way to bring billions of dollars of investment into Calgary, spurring job creation and other economic benefits.
The city, province and Ottawa each agreed to jointly fund the BidCo in March, and holding a plebiscite was one of the province’s conditions for offering those funds.
If the city backs out of the bid process now, the plebiscite will also be called off.
The $2-million cost of carrying out the plebiscite comes from a fund granted by the provincial government. City returning officer Laura Kennedy said nearly a month ago that the legislative process for the vote was well under way, with equipment and facilities already booked and hiring nearly complete for the 3,000 workers needed to facilitate the plebiscite.
The IOC approved Calgary several weeks ago as one of three bids in the running for the 2026 Games. The other two are Stockholm and the combined Italian bid of Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo.
The Olympics aren’t the only important item on city council’s agenda Tuesday. The finance committee is also set to discuss a steep drop in the value of downtown office space, which could affect the city’s four-year budget discussions in November.
Madeline Smith is a reporter/photographer with StarMetro Calgary. Follow her on Twitter: @meksmith