By CARRIE TAIT
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
CALGARY -- Calgary could stop considering a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic Games if the provincial and federal governments do not agree to financially support the process by early in the new year.
City councillors on Monday voted to give municipal bureaucrats $1-million to continue research into bidding for the Games. Calgary's administrators will likely receive another $1-million if they are able to persuade Ottawa and Edmonton to fund the bidding process. Calgary has already spent $5-million exploring whether to compete for the world's premier winter sporting celebration.
The decision immediately gives Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley an immense amount of control over Calgary's Olympic aspirations. It will cost between $25-million and $30million for the bid, including the money Calgary has already spent, according to city staff. They expect the federal government would cover up to 35 per cent of that bill.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who voted in support of furthering Calgary's Olympic process, said he is meeting with Ms. Notley next week.
Council also voted in support of exploring potential venues outside Calgary - a decision that means Edmonton will be folded into the process given its two sporting infrastructure. The provincial government is more likely to support the Olympics if cities other than Calgary and its neighbouring mountain communities are included because provincial politicians could then argue they are not just supporting Calgary.
Evan Woolley, a councillor who voted in favour of directing more cash toward the exploration effort, said he has become more optimistic as the city collects information.
"Our funding gap is shrinking and our chances of winning are going up significantly," he said at the council meeting.
Potential host cities have until March 31, 2018, to enter the International Olympic Committee's socalled dialogue phase. By jumping in, cities have a chance to negotiate with the IOC and better understand their financial obligations.
Olympic proponents in Calgary hope the IOC will sweeten its offer to the city, making playing host to the Games more financially palatable.
A group known as the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee earlier this year estimated it would cost $4.6billion for Calgary to hold the 2026 Olympics. CBEC's math assumed taxpayers would chip in $2.4-billion, with Ottawa picking up half of that tab. Calgary and the provincial government would have to cover the second half, according to CBEC's budget. The Olympics, however, would end up $425-million in the red, even after folding in revenue from ticket sales and other sources, according to CBEC's math.
Money has been a crucial part of Calgary's Olympic debate. Even the bureaucrats who asked for the additional money to fund the exploration process note that holding the Games could push Calgary near - or over - its debt limit. Olympic supporters tout the economic benefits of the Games, pointing to CBEC's conclusion that the Games would create an average of 3,000 new jobs a year over the nine years leading up to the event and boost gross domestic product across the country by as much as $3.1-billion.
The positive reports were made public this summer.
City staff, however, did not release two independent reports this spring it commissioned that were critical of the analysis on which CBEC based its projections.
The Globe and Mail reported on the secret reports late on Nov. 17. Councillors received the full documents that evening after at least one politician requested the documents from the city. On Monday, in response to criticism from councillors who felt they were kept in the dark, Calgary administrators released the documents publicly. Staff said they briefed councillors on the contents of the reports.