Calgary votes today on Olympics bid, as mayor says, “Hey, it’s not my money”

It’s nonbinding Olympic referendum day today in Calgary, and New York Times sportswriter Michael Powell marked the occasion by flying all the way to that city to write about what a boondoggle the Olympics are on a Canadian typewriter. Though he also got the time for a sit-down with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who shared a bit more of his thoughts on why he’s supporting the 2026 bid even though he generally pooh-poohs sports subsidies:

Mayor Nenshi said Calgary’s share would come in at a touch more than $400 million. The provincial Alberta government would fork over $700 million, and the federal government in Ottawa has promised a barrel of money, too.

“This is almost a tax rebate,” the mayor said.

Yep, it’s as suspected: Nenshi is for the Olympics because the vast majority of the money would come from the federal and provincial governments, so if he can land the Games and all of its associated infrastructure spending for just $400 million from his own budget, that’s a deal he’ll take. There’s a certain logic to it in an extremely parochial way, but really, “If my stupid colleagues in Ottawa are gonna blow a lot of taxpayer money on the Olympics, I want them to blow it in my town” is a disappointing position, to say the least, from a guy with a reputation for forward-thinking governance.

Powell also took advantage of those long Canadian nights to google Ernst & Young, who conducted the rosy study about a Calgary Olympics, and found this tidbit:

I nosed about afterward on the internet and noticed that Ernst & Young served as a richly compensated “exclusive provider” to the Rio Olympics. Previous Olympic cities, Ernst & Young noted in a news release, had seen arenas turn into white elephants. Not Rio, no no. “We have established sustainable postgame use for facilities” through a regimen of good governance and finance, the release said.

Two years later, Rio de Janeiro is stuck with a rumbling herd of white elephants, Olympic pools filled with rat feces, and a burned and collapsed velodrome and wrecked arenas.

At a bargain price of $400 million, who wouldn’t want that? Polls close at 8 pm Calgary time, and it’s likely to be close, so we may not know until morning whether Milan will win the 2026 Games by default.

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3 comments on “Calgary votes today on Olympics bid, as mayor says, “Hey, it’s not my money”

  1. One fly in the tax rebate ointment… as things stand the provincial and federal contributions are capped (albeit capped at a very high number) based on the current projected cost.

    Since practically no olympics comes in anywhere near it’s projected budget (not even later versions of the projected budget), this will leave Calgarians on the hook for any cost overruns.

    The fact that they are planning to take out a $20m insurance policy that will cover the first $200m of overruns is a bit of a dead giveaway isn’t it?

    So, if you say “yes” Calgary, please understand that when the final bill comes in and it’s nearly $6bn (which would be cheap by modern winter Olympics standards), the $3bn or so that isn’t covered by the Olympic revenues, the provincial government, or the federal government is yours to own.

    Talk about your olympic legacy….

  2. I mean who doesn’t love a really huge party on someone else’s dime? The Olympic spirit everyone!

    Obscuring/diluting the costs of a giant party since 1904!

  3. 56% against… a stronger result than I would have expected at this stage.

    Isn’t Stockholm still (kind of) in the running as well as Milan/Cortina d’Ampezzo?

    I understood both bids were still active and that neither include any federal money.

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