Olympic bid ‘de­struc­tive, po­lar­iz­ing,’ says Gon­dek

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

As cam­paign­ing reaches a fever pitch with just days to go be­fore Cal­gar­i­ans vote in a plebiscite on the Olympics, a city coun­cil­lor is de­cry­ing the “de­struc­tive and po­lar­iz­ing ” in­flu­ence Cal­gary’s bid is hav­ing on the city.

Coun. Jy­oti Gon­dek called a press con­fer­ence Fri­day to clar­ify her po­si­tion on a po­ten­tial bid for the 2026 Win­ter Games, four days ahead of the Olympic plebiscite on Tues­day.

The first-term coun­cil­lor bluntly re­but­ted ar­gu­ments ad­vanced by the mayor and some coun­cil­lors that the pro­posed fund­ing agree­ment for the Olympics would be a good deal for Cal­gary.

“We have cob­bled to­gether a pro­posal that of­fers a fru­gal Olympics at the ex­pense of the vi­sion with which we be­gan,” Gon­dek said. “The pro­posed of­fer that’s be­fore us is not the best that we can do.”

Gon­dek crit­i­cized last-minute re­vi­sions to the host plan to re­move some 1,000 af­ford­able hous­ing units. She also slammed the de­ci­sion to can­cel plans to re­lo­cate the Vic­to­ria Park bus barns — a move viewed as a key pre­cur­sor for re­de­vel­op­ment in the blighted neigh­bour­hood.

But Gon­dek said one of the most frus­trat­ing parts has been the “di­vi­sive­ness” that has crept into pub­lic dis­cus­sions of the bid.

“This bid is not a uni­fy­ing vi­sion any­more. It’s an in­cred­i­bly de­struc­tive and po­lar­iz­ing force. We can’t keep pro­long­ing this ter­ri­ble feel­ing, this aw­ful sense that we’re at­tack­ing each other,” she said.

As pub­lic cam­paign­ing on the Olympic bid en­ters its fi­nal hec­tic phase, Sat­ur­day is set to be jam­packed with events, start­ing with a No-side rally in Olympic Plaza, where coun­cil­lors Sean Chu, Jeromy Farkas and Joe Magliocca will fire up at­ten­dees.

Un­der-re­sourced No cam­paign­ers have faced an up­hill against a bid cor­po­ra­tion that dis­closed it will spend $1 mil­lion on ad­ver­tis­ing in the lead-up to the plebiscite.

Bid op­po­nents and some No-side coun­cil­lors have been stok­ing so­cial me­dia anger head­ing into the fi­nal stretch to counter slick mes­sag­ing from the Yes side.

Cal­gary 2026 re­leased a hand­ful of artist ren­der­ings Fri­day de­pict­ing fa­mil­iar venues like McMa­hon Sta­dium with Olympic-cal­i­bre up­grades to show Cal­gar­i­ans what they could be giv­ing up if the bid is de­feated in Tues­day ’s plebiscite.

The bid cor­po­ra­tion will also host a fam­ily-ori­ented skat­ing event at the Olympic Oval Sat­ur­day af­ter­noon, with a num­ber of Olympic and Par­a­lympic ath­letes in at­ten­dance.

Yes Cal­gary says it’s send­ing vol­un­teers out across the city to en­cour­age pro-bid vot­ers to head to the polls Tues­day, rather than hold a counter-rally on the week­end.

There is con­scious­ness on all sides that cam­paign­ing should pause for Re­mem­brance Day, but Mon­day will see both sides come out swing­ing with me­dia in­ter­views and get-out-the-vote ef­forts.

Yes Cal­gary 2026 or­ga­niz­ers say in­ter­nal polling num­bers sug­gest the bat­tle for the bid will go down to the wire.

“It’s telling us it’s go­ing to be a close race,” said cam­paign lead Stephen Carter.

“I’m try­ing to fig­ure out if the peo­ple who want this want it more than the peo­ple who don’t want this.”

Mayor Na­heed Nen­shi said Fri­day the bit­ter tenor of the de­bate sur­round­ing the bid isn’t an ex­cuse for a “lack of po­lit­i­cal courage” to move for­ward.

“You have a lot of dis­cus­sion that is not re­ally based on solid fact. But I think peo­ple, nor­mal peo­ple are re­ject­ing that,” Nen­shi said. “And those of us who live in the bub­ble are per­haps be­ing a lit­tle bit too driven by it.”

Tues­day ’s plebiscite is not bind­ing and coun­cil is set to make a fi­nal de­ci­sion on the sur­vival of Cal­gary’s bid at some point fol­low­ing the vote.

How­ever, the prov­ince and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment have pre­vi­ously said a Yes vic­tory will be re­quired to un­lock their fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tions to a 2026 Games bid.

Sev­eral coun­cil mem­bers have said they’ll abide by the will of Cal­gar­i­ans, re­gard­less of their own feel­ings.

Coun. Jeff Dav­i­sion, who is in favour of the bid, at­tended Gon­dek’s press con­fer­ence Fri­day “to sup­port his col­league” even though he doesn’t agree with her po­si­tion on the Olympics. He said the im­por­tant thing now is that Cal­gar­i­ans get the chance to weigh in.

“This is a megapro­ject. We need to hear from Cal­gar­i­ans as to whether or not this is a pri­or­ity for our city,” Dav­i­son said.

“It’s been very di­vi­sive. It’s been a very dif­fi­cult process. But now that there’s a deal on the ta­ble, I whole­heart­edly be­lieve peo­ple have the in­for­ma­tion and now they can make a de­ci­sion.”

LEAH HEN­NEL

Coun. Jy­oti Gon­dek called a news con­fer­ence on Fri­day to de­cry the “po­lar­iz­ing” and “de­struc­tive” ef­fects of the Olympics de­bate. She said the city’s fru­gal bid be­trays the “vi­sion with which we be­gan.”

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