‘A big win’ or a big disappointment?
Lobby groups split on merits of Games, with public vote planned for November
After council decided to continue a push toward the 2026 Olympics, two rival lobby groups are urging Calgarians and the city to think about the bottom line before betting on a bid.
After hours of deliberation, council voted late Tuesday to continue with a planned public vote on the Games in November.
The Calgary 2026 bid corporation publicly released its draft host plan before the vote, outlining a $5.2-billion budget to host the Games’ events at venues in Calgary, Canmore, Whistler and possibly Edmonton.
NoCalgaryOlympics is a group of Calgarians who aren’t opposed to Calgary hosting the Games in the future, but organizer Daniel Gauld says the group is against Calgary hosting the Olympics during current tough economic times.
The group says it’s heard from thousands of Calgarians who feel the city’s fiscal priorities ought to be elsewhere, as many Albertans are still struggling financially and frustrated by a stalled Trans Mountain pipeline project.
“It is disappointing that (council) did not give due consideration to this current economic uncertainty, as well as cold, hard facts like the 27 per cent downtown office vacancy, which is the highest in the country,” NoCalgaryOlympics said in a statement.
The draft plan shows the public portion of the Games cost amounts to $3 billion divided between municipal, provincial and federal governments.
Ottawa is expected to pay at least half that amount, and Calgary’s portion of the bill is an estimated $500 million (or 15 per cent) if a cost-sharing agreement can be reached with the province.
The remaining costs would be paid through International Olympic Committee contributions, sponsorships, ticketing and merchandising.
On the opposite side of the debate from Gauld’s group is Yes Calgary 2026.
Yes Calgary ambassador Stephen Carter called Tuesday ’s vote “a big win” for Olympic supporters and said the dollar figures in the draft plan should be enough to quiet naysayers.
“There’s no other capital project where we can invest 15 per cent ... normally we have to invest twice that much,” Carter said, calling a successful bid an “opportunity to leverage” other orders of government to help pay for sporting venues in the city.
He also said while the city may not double its investment by hosting the Games, the economy stands to benefit from an uptick in employment and tourism spending.
NoCalgaryOlympics said it has concerns the IOC will reap the biggest benefit from the Games while Calgarians will be left with the bill.
“Pursuing a competitive bid caters to the interests of IOC members rather than to the needs and priorities of Calgary,” the group said. “It is simply bad business to enter the IOC’s host city contract that gives total control to the IOC while all of the risk is shouldered by the city.”
NoCalgaryOlympics wants Calgarians to vote against hosting the Games when they head to the polls on Nov. 13, calling citizens “the last hope for protecting the interests of the city,” adding council “has chosen to collectively shirk its responsibility.”
But Carter said the draft plan details allow Yes Calgary 2026 and its 700 ambassadors to better inform Calgarians on the benefits of hosting ahead of the plebiscite vote.
“We move from people who are highly engaged . . . to people who are less engaged,” Carter said. “Now they need to get informed and understand what’s going on and determine their position.”
Although Calgary 2026 CEO Mary Moran cited a potential $7.4-billion in potential economic benefits, Trevor Tombe, an associate economic professor at the University of Calgary, said it was something he found “pretty concerning.”
“It’s dramatically overstated for a number of reasons,” said Tombe.
“First, the spending on the Games is a reallocation of public funds from other uses. We don’t account for the opportunity costs, or the displacement effects of shifting those funds from elsewhere, and the workers, the investment capital, that shifts as well.
“The Games are not an incremental addition to the economy, they’re shifting the economic activity from one area to another and that was not reflected in their estimates.”
Mayor Naheed Nenshi said hosting the Olympics could attract billions in investment to help pay for projects that would normally come out of city coffers.
Outside council chambers on Tuesday, the mayor said he is “not as much pro-Olympics” as he is “pro a great deal for Calgary,” adding council still has options to stop the bid process even after the plebiscite.
“If the plebiscite passes, then there won’t be more reports to council, ‘do you want to move forward?’ ” he said. “There will still be an opportunity . . . to come back and say ‘it’s not working.’ ”
Daniel Gauld, founder of the NoCalgaryOlympics campaign, says he is against hosting the Games during tough economic times.