Vote looms: Games bid on thin ice
We talked to councillors on eve of big day:
Councillors remained divided Sunday about whether to continue to explore a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics, one day before a vote that could end the process.
The 15-member council is scheduled to decide Monday whether to proceed with an Olympic bid process, with just eight votes required to end pursuit of another Games.
Five councillors reached Sunday said it’s too early to pull the plug on a potential Olympics bid.
But Coun. Jeromy Farkas said he’s in favour of “taking the off-ramp out of 2026.”
“It’s largely because of the way the process has been handled that I think we should be out for 2026,” he said. “Something, though, that I just haven’t heard really discussed much is that at this time we have huge leverage with the IOC. I think that they need us more than we need them, so while I’m leaning to support the off-ramp for 2026, I think that we still have to keep an open mind for 2030. The opportunity might be there to, say, negotiate a killer deal, incorporate Calgarians and get the business community on board.”
Coun. Jeff Davison said it’s not the right time “to abandon ship on what we’ve already done.”
“We’ve heard from Calgarians that they want a voice on the matter about the Olympics and I intend to give them one,” he said. “I think now’s the critical time that BidCo should get together, evaluate the numbers and present those numbers to Calgarians so we can have a fact-based conversation on whether or not the economics of this are going to work for us.”
Coun. Ray Jones, who is also in favour of giving residents a chance to weigh in, predicted Sunday a majority of council will opt to halt further work, given that councillors Diane Colley-Urquhart and Ward Sutherland signalled last week that they could switch their stance.
“I don’t think it should be left up to 15 members of council,” Jones said. “I just hope council thinks about it before they vote. We’ve got to get to the public part of this.”
Members of a council committee voted 9-1 last Tuesday in favour of the vote on whether to continue pursuing a potential bid.
Coun. Druh Farrell, who introduced the motion, said following Tuesday’s vote that she had the impression councillors were changing their minds on moving ahead with the process.
“I’m not sure there is majority support to go forward,” she said.
Colley-Urquhart and Sutherland, who had both previously voted in favour of exploring a bid, signalled last week they could now reject the process.
“Unless there’s a lot of lobbying and arm-twisting and leg-twisting that goes on in the next four or five days, I think this is dead,” Colley-Urquhart said Tuesday. Sutherland said in a social media post last week he would vote to discontinue the process.
Calgarians outside the political sphere also weighed in last week. Dozens of current and retired Olympic athletes held a news conference at Canada Olympic Park Friday, asking council to continue considering a bid. The Calgary Chamber of Commerce also urged council to allow the Olympic bid corporation to complete its work.
Coun. George Chahal, the sole councillor to vote against council making a decision this week, said he wants the public to have their say first. He said a lot could happen during the course of Monday’s debate, including potential amendments.
“I believe, so far, we haven’t communicated well with the public on the costs and benefits of what an Olympics would do to the city, the pros and cons, and what would our city look like without the Olympics,” Chahal said Sunday. “We have a lot of infrastructure requirements in our facilities that need to be upgraded, so we need to have a real discussion on what it looks like.”
Coun. Shane Keating said he’s not prepared to say whether he’s for or against.
“I’m prepared to say, let’s look into the possibilities and then make an informed, intelligent opinion,” he said. “Anyone who’s, in my view, ready to make a decision one way or the other today, without really having basic (information), isn’t interested in whether it’s good, bad or ugly.”
Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra echoed the viewpoint, saying “it’s way too soon” to make a final decision.
“I think that walking away from the Olympics right now would be a mistake,” he said.
Carra said the members of council in favour of proceeding with exploring a bid are not saying yes to the Olympics, but “yes to finding out whether we can craft a good deal.
“And I would hope that we can maintain a majority of councillors who are focused on exploring that,” he said.
Coun. Sean Chu said there are too many unknowns.
“I was one of two councillors right from Day 1 saying this is not the time and we shouldn’t even be thinking about going forward with the Olympics because the cost is unknown,” he said.
Last week, Mayor Naheed Nenshi called the decision to hold the vote “remarkably short-sighted.”
He said it’s premature to end the process before Calgarians weigh in and a full financial picture emerges of potential funding from other levels of government, the I.O.C. and the private sector.
It’s largely because of the way the process has been handled that I think we should be out for 2026.” Coun. Jeromy Farkas