Minister says he’d like ‘clear decision’ from Calgarians in Olympic plebiscite
On the heels of a decision by city council to keep Calgary’s Olympic bid process alive, Alberta’s minister of culture and tourism says he hopes a November plebiscite on whether to host the Games will prove definitive.
“I hope that we get a clear decision one way or another, because it would make the final decision a lot easier to make,” Ricardo Miranda said Wednesday.
“Having said that, we will respect whatever numbers come out and we will work with those.”
Miranda made the comments following the release of a hosting plan by bid corporation Calgary 2026, and a decision by council Tuesday to continue work on an Olympic bid, at least until the plebiscite is held Nov. 13.
Though the plebiscite was a requirement of the province to support funding for the Calgary bid corporation, Miranda would not comment on whether a simple majority or some higher threshold would be required for the province’s continued support.
“My preference would be to see strong support one way or the other, because at the very least you’d have a definitive answer of what the majority of Calgarians want,” Miranda said.
“I don’t want to make any statement in terms of what I would consider the magical number, because there isn’t one.
“What I really want to see is that the public is engaged. I hope that every single Calgarian takes the opportunity and casts a ballot. Then, based on the results we get, we will move forward.”
While a city-commissioned poll released last month suggested the results of a plebiscite could be close, one of the most important aspects will be voter turnout, said Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt.
“It will carry weight if the result is definitive one way or another. If it’s narrow, or voter turnout is very low, then governments are going to have to make decisions,” Bratt said, noting that Calgary has seen low turnout in past municipal elections.
“I can tell you, if there is a low voter turnout, whoever is on the other side of the issue is going to argue it’s invalid.”
Bratt said the plebiscite still has an appeal for politicians looking for political cover.
“But it’s going to be interpreted whichever way people want, unless it’s decisive,” he said.
“Let’s say it’s 25 per cent turnout with 51 per cent in favour of the Olympics — are you willing to bet $3 billion or more on that sort of mandate?”
The city has committed to carrying out a “neutral” public engagement campaign on the bid over the eight weeks until the plebiscite, to ensure citizens have enough information to make a decision.
But regardless of the outcome, city council will have final say on a bid since the plebiscite is non-binding.
Some councillors have suggested that while they will be paying close attention to the plebiscite, they won’t necessarily be guided by the outcome in their ultimate decision.
Coun. Druh Farrell said the city has committed to killing the bid if a deal can’t be struck with the province and the International Olympic Committee that works for Calgary — regardless of the result of the plebiscite.
But Farrell added that a narrow margin in a plebiscite wouldn’t be a sign of a “successful” vote.
“I would hope that the support is more clear than 51-49. I would hope there is overwhelming support or opposition,” she said. “If it’s a 50-50, it’s going to be a really interesting discussion.”
Coun. Peter Demong, who has voted with council’s Olympics skeptics several times, has said he will be guided by voters in just his own ward.
“I intend to listen to the people of Ward 14,” Demong said. “I realize that it’s going to be a citywide plebiscite, but the city in general did not elect me, the constituents of Ward 14 elected me. So, I’ll be looking very closely at what the constituents of Ward 14 have voted.”
Ricardo Miranda, Alberta's Minister of Culture and Tourism, speaks at a press conference before the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Alberta Winter Games at Shell Place in Fort McMurray, Alta. on Friday, February 16, 2018.