Olympic bid op­po­nents ‘out­gunned’ by wealth­ier ‘Yes’ lob­by­ing groups

Calgary Herald - - CITY + REGION - MEGHAN POTKINS mpotkins@post­media.com

The battle for the hearts and votes of Cal­gar­i­ans in the Nov. 13 Olympic plebiscite is shap­ing up as a David-ver­susGo­liath af­fair be­tween well-funded Yes groups, in­clud­ing the Cal­gary 2026 bid cor­po­ra­tion, and a shoe­string No group.

Un­like reg­u­lar mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions, campaigners par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Nov. 13 plebiscite do not have to reg­is­ter and aren’t sub­ject to fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure rules re­quir­ing can­di­dates to re­veal de­tails of do­na­tions they re­ceive.

Both sides say they plan to run vol­un­teer-led, grass­roots cam­paigns fo­cused on facts, though with less than two months re­main­ing be­fore Cal­gar­i­ans head to the polls, it’s ap­par­ent Yes-side groups have the ad­van­tage in num­bers and bud­gets.

Yes Cal­gary 2026 says it’s close to reach­ing its goal of amass­ing 1,000 vol­un­teers with a bud­get fu­elled mostly by pin sales (which go for $20.26 each on its web­site). And, with the help of some do­na­tions, or­ga­niz­ers say they ’ve raised about $20,000.

“I think we will spend ev­ery nickel we get. Right now, it’s not very much money,” said Stephen Carter, whose group has held a num­ber of events and in­for­ma­tion ses­sions pro­mot­ing the bid.

“We have re­ceived some do­na­tions from in­di­vid­u­als who wanted to give a lit­tle bit more, but those do­na­tions are few and far be­tween com­pared to the pin sales.”

Bol­ster­ing Yes Cal­gary’s ef­forts, though not di­rectly as­so­ci­ated, will be a mar­ket­ing blitz by Tourism Cal­gary.

Ul­ti­mate Host 2026 will en­cour­age tourism and re­lated in­dus­tries to vote in favour of the bid with a web­site, video and so­cial me­dia cam­paign, or­ga­niz­ers said ear­lier this week. While Tourism Cal­gary is partly funded through grants from the city, the Ul­ti­mate Host cam­paign will be funded through a one-time grant from the Cal­gary Ho­tel Association and pri­vate part­ners who have of­fered pro bono sup­port.

The biggest pro­po­nent of the bid go­ing into the plebiscite will, of course, be the bid cor­po­ra­tion, backed by a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar bud­get funded by tax­pay­ers.

Cal­gary 2026 con­firmed Tues­day that it will carry out com­mu­ni­ca­tions and mar­ket­ing ahead of the Novem­ber vote.

“Our man­date is to de­velop and pro­mote a re­spon­si­ble bid,” said CEO Mary Mo­ran in coun­cil cham­bers ear­lier this week. “We would not give any (funds) to the Yes side or any to the No side, but we would en­gage in con­ver­sa­tions with both groups.”

Fac­ing off against the on­slaught of pro­fes­sional campaigners and vol­un­teers is Cal­gary ’s vastly les­s­ex­pe­ri­enced No side.

Or­ga­niz­ers with No Cal­gary Olympics say they haven’t col­lected any do­na­tions, but have spent around $2,000 on their cam­paign so far.

“We know that we’re out­gunned, I think that is clear,” said Jeanne Mile with No Cal­gary Olympics. “But Cal­gary likes the un­der­dog, Cal­gary lis­tens to the un­der­dog. It’s one of the great things I like about this city.”

Mile says her group has drawn in­spi­ra­tion from Bos­ton’s suc­cess­ful bid op­po­si­tion and is fo­cus­ing on so­cial me­dia out­reach. Her group is also hop­ing to par­tic­i­pate in or­ga­nized fo­rums and de­bates closer to vot­ing day.

City clerk Laura Kennedy says in many ways, the lead-up to the plebiscite will look like an or­di­nary mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion cam­paign.

“I think you’ll have fo­rums where peo­ple will speak for and against and there will be peo­ple there ask­ing their ques­tions, which is very sim­i­lar to what you’d see in a reg­u­lar elec­tion,” Kennedy said.

While the campaigners won’t have to for­mally reg­is­ter with Elec­tions Cal­gary, they will have to abide by the usual elec­tion sig­nage rules, Kennedy said.

Kennedy wouldn’t haz­ard a guess on voter turnout but pointed out that the city has rarely, if ever, con­ducted a stand-alone plebiscite. Plebiscites are typ­i­cally wrapped into a gen­eral elec­tion — the last one be­ing plebiscites on flu­o­ride and VLTs in 1998, she said.

“In my ex­pe­ri­ence, Cal­gar­i­ans are very en­gaged. They will come out and vote.”

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