Calgary Olympics public vote to go ahead after council narrowly fails to block it

The Calgary city council voted 8-7 yesterday to pull the city’s 2026 Olympic bid off of the November 13 ballot in the wake of controversy over who’ll foot the Games’ multi-billion-dollar bill — but as a ten-vote supermajority was required to pass the measure, the plebiscite will go ahead as scheduled.

And check out who cast one of the two deciding votes:

Yep, Mayor Naheed Nenshi, scourge of sports subsidies, voted to move ahead with plans to spend at least $2.325 billion in public money, and more likely $3 billion, and more likely than that upwards of $4 billion given how cost overruns usually go with these things, on hosting the 2026 Winter Games. Why, Mr. Nenshi, why?

“Over the next few days I will be trying to explain this deal to people, but I’m now at the point where I can actually say to people ‘this is a great deal we’ve negotiated’ and I’m encouraging people to vote yes.”’

Well, that’s unspecific but certainly enthusiastic. Presumably Nenshi’s argument is that Calgary’s share — $370 million under the new plan — is a good investment in exchange for the federal and provincial governments building more than $2 billion of stuff in Calgary. But while that’s certainly better for the city than where the deal stood over the weekend, city taxpayers are also provincial and federal taxpayers, and anyway is “Ha ha we’re sticking people in Moose Jaw and Thunder Bay with most of the bill, this’ll be great” really good public policy? And, for that matter, is spending even $370 million for a projected $200 million return a good idea? Plus, who’s going to pay those cost overruns?

Eight city councillors were concerned enough about these questions to vote no, including Evan Woolley, chair of the Olympic assessment committee, who told CBC News, “I personally will not support a deal that’s not in the best interests of Calgarians. We do not have the deal in front of us today.” The question now will be whether more Calgary voters share Nenshi’s excitement or Woolley’s qualms. If they do, then it should be smooth sailing once — sorry, what’s that?

Calgary 2026 highlighted one budget line that called for the city to purchase a contingency insurance policy, valued at $200 million, for $20 million of city funds. The organization said that will leverage $200 million matched by the federal government.

When questioned, however, it became clear there was no insurance policy identified as yet and if none could be found, Calgary 2026 just said it would find more cuts in their budget.

Friends, don’t let friends bid on the Olympics.


13 comments on “Calgary Olympics public vote to go ahead after council narrowly fails to block it

  1. Never missing an opportunity, no matter how oblique, to slam Bud Seling and his political minions may I present the ultimate let the other guys pay for it:
    Tommy “Stick it to ‘em!” Thompson
    In 1995, when debate was high around the state about taxpayer funds in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties be used to foot the bill to pay for a new home for the Milwaukee Brewers, Tommy was in central Wisconsin when he said, “All taxes come from Waukesha and Milwaukee. Stick it to ‘em!” (Daily Kos 7/18/12)
    Stick that in your Moose Jaw.

  2. Geez, the Olympics? Hell of an investment. Can a new Flames arena be far behind. Above and below the 49th parallel, we are living in an idiot’s paradise.

  3. Well, it’s not like Calgary hasn’t hosted the Olympics before. There should be someone there with institutional memory who can guide them.

    I still don’t understand the purpose of the games. They just seem to bring nationalism to the forefront and remind people that there are a whole bunch of sports that don’t interest them.

    • Don’t forget the primary purpose… to bring wealthy people from all over the world to your city to enjoy a party paid for largely by the citizens of the host country (and not by the wealthy visitors), while allowing the IOC to scoop up a large percentage of the money that is actually spent for themselves.

      • But but but but my patriotism!

        How will I reinforce the trivial differences between me and my fellow man without biannual dick measuring contests?

  4. This con job on the citizens of Calgary will end up costing more than just paying for the Calgary hockey arena in the first place. For all the non white or under 55 crowd, the winter Olympics are the expensive sports rich people play to avoid people of color.

  5. Quite surprised to hear Nenshi gushing over the “deal” they have negotiated… he hasn’t really been a major booster of these types of wealth transfers in the past.

    Having said that, in fairness to the council, I think it important to point out that many of them stated they were voting “yes” to advance this to a (non binding) plebiscite specifically because they felt that Calgarians should have the right to vote on it themselves, not because they believe it is a good (or even viable) deal.

    While asking citizens (who may be well informed, poorly informed, or not at all informed on the issue in question) to make these decisions is generally a mistake, I don’t see the harm in asking them for input in a non-binding plebiscite.

    The deal is not yet final, of course, and the budgeting appears to be about as lax as these things usually are at this stage. Council can still quash the proposal if it turns bad, or if the support voiced in the plebiscite is 52-48 or what have you.

    The danger remains, naturally, that the plebiscite might result in 50% +1 vote support for an olympic bid… or worse yet that the vote is heavily skewed by people who have done literally no homework on what an olympic bid entails… and council may feel that the people have spoken and they have no choice but to agree to the weak and incomplete deal they are in the process of negotiating.

    But let’s hope not. Once a plebiscite has been scheduled it is difficult to find reasons to cancel it. So long as this one remains very much non-binding, I don’t have an issue with council going ahead with the vote.

  6. Well, with North Korea and South Korea submitting a joint bid for 2032, this is at least likely the not most likely plan to breakdown if approved

  7. “Ha ha we’re sticking people in Moose Jaw and Thunder Bay with most of the bill, this’ll be great” really good public policy”

    Well that is about 30% of all public policy frankly…

    I want thing X, but I don’t want to pay for it, so lets hope I can get some other jurisdiction to “share” the burden. The public transfer levels between the states are kind of horrifying.

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