Al­berta leaves Cal­gary, Ot­tawa with an Olympic-sized tab

The Globe and Mail Metro (Ontario Edition) - - NEWS - JUSTIN GIOVANNETTI

Al­berta says it is will­ing to spend $700-mil­lion to re­turn the Win­ter Olympics to Cal­gary in 2026 if the city is cho­sen as host, how­ever, the province’s de­ci­sion not to cover pos­si­ble cost over­runs leaves the city and Ot­tawa fac­ing a po­ten­tial multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tab.

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Joe Ceci said on Fri­day that the province’s fund­ing is con­tin­gent on a ma­jor­ity of Cal­gar­i­ans sup­port­ing the Games in a plebiscite sched­uled for Nov. 13. The province would also re­quire the city’s bid process to fall un­der pro­vin­cial free­dom of in­for­ma­tion laws to in­crease trans­parency.

“I know there is $3-bil­lion nec­es­sary for the pub­lic gov­ern­ments and agen­cies to con­trib­ute. And $700-mil­lion is a sig­nif­i­cant amount of money and it gets us a lot of the way there,” Mr. Ceci told re­porters in Cal­gary on Fri­day af­ter­noon.

The Fi­nance Min­is­ter said he felt $700-mil­lion was the most the province could con­trib­ute as Al­berta claws its way out of a long re­ces­sion and looks to slay its bud­get deficit.

“It was a num­ber we felt com­fort­able putting in, rel­a­tive to the sit­u­a­tion we’re in at the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment level,” Mr. Ceci said.

A draft plan for the 2026 games es­ti­mated the cost at $5.2bil­lion, with the three lev­els of gov­ern­ment ex­pected to con­trib­ute $3-bil­lion. Spon­sor­ships and Games rev­enue would cover the rest. Cal­gary of­fi­cials have said the city could pro­vide $500-mil­lion. Fri­day’s an­nounce­ment from Mr. Ceci means Ot­tawa and the city could be asked to cover the re­main­ing $1.8-bil­lion, and the risk of cost over­runs.

Cal­gary Mayor Na­heed Nen­shi said in a state­ment that the city is in con­ver­sa­tions with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment about fund­ing the Games.

“We imag­ine there will be more to say about the city and fed­eral gov­ern­ment con­tri­bu­tions in the next few days,” he said.

A spokes­woman for the fed­eral Min­is­ter of Science and Sport said Ot­tawa is work­ing on pro­vid­ing more fund­ing specifics be­fore the plebiscite. “We re­spect that the cit­i­zens of Cal­gary need to be in­formed be­fore they vote,” the state­ment from Science and Sport Min­is­ter Kirsty Dun­can’s of­fice said.

Cal­gary city coun­cil­lor Druh Far­rell has been op­posed to an Olympic bid from the out­set and be­lieves Cal­gar­i­ans have not been given the pre­plebiscite data they were promised.

“We have a ten­dency to pur­sue the uni­corn, the one big thing that is go­ing to solve our prob­lems,” she said. “We know that with this par­tic­u­lar re­ces­sion it’s very dif­fer­ent, very com­pli­cated and we’re not just go­ing to re­bound be­cause of host­ing an event eight years into the fu­ture.”

All three of the can­di­dates ap­proved by the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee (IOC) face po­lit­i­cal chal­lenges.

Stock­holm’s bid is at risk be­cause a coali­tion deal struck on Fri­day to run the city’s mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment re­quires that no tax­payer fund­ing go to­wards hold­ing the Olympics. The Ital­ian gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to not pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial back­ing for the com­bined bid of Mi­lan and Cortina d’Am­pezzo has also led to ques­tions about the level of sup­port for the ef­fort.

The most im­me­di­ate bar­rier for the Cal­gary bid is next month’s non-bind­ing plebiscite.

Cal­gary’s city coun­cil has not said what level of voter sup­port it would re­quire to con­tinue the Olympic bid. Mr. Ceci said the province would be com­fort­able with a sim­ple ma­jor­ity.

Two com­pet­ing cam­paigns, Yes Cal­gary and No Cal­gary Olympics, have emerged to shape the de­bate. Both sides are clash­ing not only about the amount of money re­quired to fund the Games, but also about whether Cal­gary would ben­e­fit from the in­fu­sion of cash a decade af­ter the start of a grim eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion sparked by a down­turn in the oil mar­ket.

Emma May, a vol­un­teer for the pro-bid group, said Cal­gary needs the Games again to re­cap­ture the feel­ing of the 1988 Olympics and the in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion it brought to Al­berta’s big­gest city.

“I was here in the de­pres­sion of the 80s. Peo­ple were los­ing their homes and busi­nesses were go­ing bank­rupt. But in 1988, the town gath­ered around and lit it­self on fire and we had the 1988 Olympics. We un­der­es­ti­mate what that did to the city’s con­scious­ness. It shifted us onto a new path and gave us a global out­look that has helped us thrive,” she said.

A month be­fore the vote, she said, there has been a lot of vo­cal sup­port for the no side. Her big­gest chal­lenge will be get­ting the peo­ple who she says want the Games to come out and pub­licly sup­port it.

Erin Waite, a spokes­woman for the no cam­paign, said the tone of the plebiscite has “felt pan­icked” as dif­fer­ent lev­els of gov­ern­ment have put for­ward their com­mit­ments only weeks be­fore the vote.

“When this is an IOC-driven process you have IOC dead­lines, you get rushed de­ci­sions and cost over­runs. We’re eight years be­fore the games and al­ready see­ing the panic,” she said.


Al­berta’s Can­more Nordic Cen­tre Pro­vin­cial Park, seen in April, was the site of the 1988 Olympic Games.


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