City should re­pay Olympic bid cash

Calgary Herald - - OPINION - CHRIS NEL­SON

There’s some­thing faintly seedy about this civic grasp­ing for those re­main­ing few crumbs from what was sup­posed to be a small starter course be­fore a more sump­tu­ous tax­payer-funded feast.

This arises be­cause the Al­berta gov­ern­ment wants some money re­turned to its cof­fers from cash com­mit­ted for that po­ten­tial Cal­gary bid to host the 2026 Win­ter Olympics.

But in a sweet slice of irony, the provin­cial bean-coun­ters in Ed­mon­ton are learn­ing the same hard les­son that lo­cal ratepay­ers did long ago: when the City of Cal­gary gets its sweaty hands on your cash, good luck get­ting it back.

Ap­par­ently, the Al­berta gov­ern­ment kicked in about $7 mil­lion for Cal­gary’s bid cor­po­ra­tion, in ad­di­tion to the $2 mil­lion it came up with to fund the even­tual death-knell for the en­tire boon­dog­gle: Novem­ber’s city­wide plebiscite.

After a ma­jor­ity of Cal­gar­i­ans showed they weren’t in­fected with the same fi­nan­cial il­lit­er­acy and gung-ho gulli­bil­ity as many of our civic movers and shak­ers, the whole cam­paign came to a fi­nal, shud­der­ing halt.

So, not un­nat­u­rally, the prov­ince now ex­pects to get a few bucks back. (What­ever the fi­nan­cial sins of this NDP gov­ern­ment, give it credit for de­mand­ing to see if Cal­gar­i­ans them­selves wanted the Olympics be­fore com­mit­ting $700 mil­lion of tax­pay­ers’ cash.)

Ch­eryl Oates, spokes­woman for Premier Rachel Not­ley, said the prov­ince agreed to pick up a third of the bid cor­po­ra­tion costs, and as that project was sub­se­quently cur­tailed, it ex­pects a share of what­ever’s left in the kitty.

“We hope to re­ceive a par­tial re­fund over the next cou­ple of months, and a fi­nal pay­ment after the au­dit is fin­ished in the spring,” she said.

Well, that cheque might get lost in the mail, it seems. That’s if it even reaches a post­box.

Mayor Na­heed Nen­shi has said he’ll ad­vo­cate for the city to re­tain the provin­cial and fed­eral con­tri­bu­tions to the fund cre­ated to pur­sue the bid.

“That was money for the City of Cal­gary, for sports work and sports plan­ning, and we should keep it,” he said, after cit­i­zens deep-sixed the Olympic bid.

“I will con­tinue to ad­vo­cate for that. I do not an­tic­i­pate the bid cor­po­ra­tion or the city writ­ing a cheque back to the prov­ince and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for a re­fund.”

Now some naive folk might have thought that, once cit­i­zens voted not to pro­ceed with an Olympic bid, then the com­mit­tee put to­gether for ex­actly that pur­pose would have had a fi­nal group hug be­fore re­turn­ing to the real world.

Not so. In the strange uni­verse that goes hand-in-hand with spend­ing other peo­ple’s money, the group’s not dead at all. In fact, it’s now busy pro­duc­ing a re­port on the costs of legacy win­ter sports in­fra­struc­ture.

Chief ex­ec­u­tive Mary Mo­ran said this is so Cal­gary can “pro­tect its sport-re­lated tourism and its po­si­tion as win­ter sport cen­tre of ex­cel­lence.”

OK, so here’s a ques­tion. Isn’t this the very same group that was sup­posed to have all this per­ti­nent in­for­ma­tion be­fore they came up with a price tag for host­ing the 2026 event? Cer­tainly, that was the im­pres­sion given be­fore the plebiscite. Yet, they’re still in­ves­ti­gat­ing the cost of main­tain­ing those same fa­cil­i­ties? So they didn’t re­ally know the costs back in Novem­ber?

And be­yond that rather per­ti­nent is­sue, there re­mains the fact this wasn’t their man­date. You strike a com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate one thing, ask other lev­els of gov­ern­ment to help fund it, then when that sin­gu­lar ex­er­cise ends, you shouldn’t ar­ro­gantly di­vert re­main­ing funds into an­other af­fil­i­ated project.

But here, in this last-gasp grab for a few dol­lars more of tax­pay­ers’ money, is the fi­nal ex­am­ple of why a ma­jor­ity of or­di­nary Cal­gar­i­ans stuck a spike through the heart of this mon­ster. Please, re­pay the prov­ince — it’s our money too, re­mem­ber.

When the City of Cal­gary gets its sweaty hands on your cash, good luck get­ting it back.

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