Calgary to let voters decide on bidding $3B in public cash for 2026 Olympics

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.

 


7 comments on “Calgary to let voters decide on bidding $3B in public cash for 2026 Olympics

  1. You would think they could just investigate the numbers from the last time they held the Olympics. Then bump up the security budget and figure out if it would be coat effective to host another one.

    I’d also double whatever the initial budget number is because save for LA 1984 these things are always a disaster

  2. I realize the Olympics seem to not like revisiting cities quickly but if Canada is going to do a bid, aren’t most of Vancouver’s venues still in decent shape from the last time it was held there. Seems at least would be preferable to the fiasco the 2022 Olympic bid became.

    • I think serious consideration should be given to establishing permanent hosts, one each for winter and summer. It’s pie in the sky, of course, since I’m pretty sure the world would never reach an agreement, but it’s getting harder each time to justify the immense pools of money and resources being expended for what amounts to just a few weeks of use in most cases.

      • It makes sense but a rotation would work out better because some would talk at always going Beijing. Summer could be Beijing, LA, and Moscow. Then you have a 4th slot so you find a new sucker every 20 years.

        Winter could be Lake Placid, Russia, China and a rotational slot

  3. The 1988 winter olympics were alleged to have “made money”. Whether this is actually true or not depends very much on what things you include as olympic costs and what are considered “things we probably would have built anyway, at some point, somehow”.

    While many of Vancouver’s venues remain completely modern, as I understand it some have been demolished (but could be rebuilt at reasonable cost). Vancouver’s winter olympics definitely did not make money, even if you ignore the multi billion dollar security costs. Furlong himself announced that the events had ‘broken even’, absent security costs… which is the worst kind of code for “please don’t ask me about that anymore”.

    However the city and region were left with some things they needed (HS rail transit out to airport, improved highway to Whistler etc).

    As with all these cases, though, using the olympics as justification for doing the things the public wanted or needed anyway is a bit of a cart leading horse scenario. If either the highway or transit improvements were needed, the city/province could likely have built them more cost effectively without an artificial deadline like the olympic games in place to drive costs up.

    In other words, if your city wants a $50m swimming pool, just build one. Don’t parlay an olympic bid into a way to “get” a $50m swimming pool ‘for free’, because that pool is likely to cost you nearly $100m once the construction congestion and artificial deadline/wobble trigger is factored in.

    The olympics are just a party you throw for someone else. They have most of the fun, you pay nearly all the bills and are left with the cleanup (and often construction bonds) the morning after.

    • This is how the Olympics really need to be sold, and stadiums too frankly. It is a frivolous expense, that you still might otherwise want to undertake, because parties and frivolous expenses are fun.

      But there should be zero pretension it is going to “pay off”, and it definitely shouldn’t be done just to reduce costs for some billionaire.

  4. The council members couldn’t get the NHL arena done , so they add a billion to the previous estimate. Tell the tax payers that they will be renovating the Saddle , but a new arena possible. Yes they will have help building it because this Canada and the demo’s look even worse for the so called national past time north of the border.

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