Provincial funding falls short, forces a budget Olympics
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