The Calgary city council has voted overwhelmingly to put the question of whether to bid on the 2026 Winter Olympics up for a public vote in November, as the price tag has become clearer: a $5.2 billion total budget, of which $3 billion would be paid by city, provincial, and federal taxpayers.
That sounds, um, really really bad, especially if Calgary wouldn’t get any revenue from the Games. (Olympic revenues would go towards paying off the other $2.2 billion.) But Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who has been notably skeptical about giving lots of money to the Flames owners for a new arena — something that’s not part of the Olympic plan — says there could be benefits for the city:
Nenshi said hosting the Olympics could be a “huge leveraging exercise” for Calgary that could attract billions in investment to help pay for projects that the city would otherwise have to pay for on its own.
“If we can get that money from other places and also get all the benefits of an Olympic Games, that starts to sound really interesting to me,” he said.
That sounds like “Hey, if Ottawa is going to spend a whole bunch of money on stuff in Calgary, works for me!”, which, sure, okay. But Calgary would still be on the hook for at least a billion dollars or so, which isn’t chump change. Bid chief Mary Moran said that her organization was projecting that Alberta would see about $200 million in new tax revenue as a result of the Olympics, which sounds like a terrible return on the public’s investment, but which she called “a responsible bid.”
Nenshi did imply that holding a plebiscite, or even passing one, wouldn’t necessarily mean Calgary would bid on the 2026 Games:
“I am not as much pro-Olympics as I am pro-a-great-deal for Calgary,” Nenshi said Tuesday night.
“So, if there is a point where that great deal just isn’t surfacing before or even after the plebiscite — if the plebiscite passes — then certainly council would still say ‘you know, this isn’t right for the citizens of Calgary and we are going to pull out of the process’.”
It’s also entirely possible that Calgary voters will tell the IOC to take a long walk off a short pier, as those in other cities have done. Ultimately, it’s less important whether Calgary officials okay a public vote — democracy is good! — than how they attempt to sell the deal to voters; if it’s all “Who can put a price tag on the thrill of Olympic curling?”, that’s less helpful in letting people determine whether this would really be a great deal.