Provin­cial fund­ing falls short, forces a bud­get Olympics

Calgary Herald - - CITY+REGION - DON BRAID

The province just shrank Cal­gary’s po­ten­tial Olympic bid. And maybe that’s a good thing. The 2026 Win­ter Games, if Cal­gary wins them, would get $700 mil­lion from the NDP gov­ern­ment.

That’s about $300 mil­lion less than had been ex­pected.

The over­all fund­ing drop could be much big­ger, though.

Fed­eral back­ing will shrink ac­cord­ingly be­cause Ot­tawa funds these things on a dollar-for-dollar ba­sis.

If the province and the city con­tribute about $1 bil­lion to­tal, that’s ex­actly what Ot­tawa will match, un­der long-stand­ing pol­icy.

The pub­lic cost had been es­ti­mated at $3 bil­lion for all three lev­els of gov­ern­ment. But the provin­cial fund­ing — an­nounced Fri­day — could cut that to­tal from $3 bil­lion lower than $2 bil­lion.

The province is putting up $120 mil­lion for un­fore­seen con­tin­gen­cies, but this is ac­tu­ally in­cluded in the $700 mil­lion. Ot­tawa might con­sider that it’s only ob­li­gated to match $580 mil­lion of provin­cial fund­ing, plus the city’s to­tal.

The No-to-the- Olympic forces will doubt­less paint this as a bad thing, as the city starts the run to the Nov. 13 plebiscite on whether a bid should pro­ceed.

Per­son­ally, I think the NDP an­nounce­ment could ac­tu­ally be a pos­i­tive sign for fis­cal wor­ri­ers, in­clud­ing me, who want the Games to be as lean as pos­si­ble, while still be­ing ex­cel­lent.

And yet, there’s also a dan­ger that the provin­cial low­ball could tor­pedo the whole pro­ject.

The NDP is des­per­ate to avoid that im­pres­sion. But it’s just pos­si­ble that Ot­tawa, rather than pro­vid­ing more money be­cause Al­berta is pro­vid­ing less, will refuse to con­tribute any­thing, on grounds that the pro­ject can’t work.

This has to go to the fed­eral cab­i­net. When a Cal­gary Olympic bid is bounc­ing around a ta­ble with min­is­ters from say Que­bec and On­tario, over­con­fi­dence is not in or­der.

Cal­gary’s bid com­mit­tee may have some hope of fur­ther com­mer­cial rev­enue. That could pos­si­bly fill some of a po­ten­tial $1-bil­lion gap.

And some key Cal­gar­i­ans have the im­pres­sion that de­spite the provin­cial fru­gal­ity, there’s still a chance for the full $3 bil­lion in pub­lic fund­ing.

At this point, it’s hard to see how. The main hope for keep­ing this on the rails is to pare down fa­cil­i­ties and ex­pec­ta­tions.

Few cities in the world are more ca­pa­ble of do­ing this, be­cause Cal­gary has such a plethora of ex­ist­ing venues.

The province gave a hint of this Thurs­day with a $500,000 cheque for up­grad­ing Win­sport venues, es­pe­cially the slid­ing fa­cil­i­ties. This was ac­tu­ally un­re­lated to the Olympics, no kid­ding, but it doesn’t hurt.

For the 2026 Games, the only es­sen­tial new fa­cil­i­ties ap­pear to be a field house and a new se­condary hockey rink.

En­ter Cal­gary Sports and En­ter­tain­ment.

Talks with the city are about to re­sume around a new rink and en­ter­tain­ment cen­tre as part of Vic­to­ria Park re­newal, now called the Rivers.

The vibes seem very pos­i­tive. The bit­ter­ness of last year’s blowup dur­ing the civic elec­tion cam­paign has faded. From city hall to the Flames own­ers’ box, no­body wants any­thing like that again.

The plan for the Rivers is al­ready com­pelling. The map even has a spot for the rink just north of the Stam­pede grounds.

If the new rink is built, that

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