Calgary City Council to vote on cancelling 2026 Olympic bid
Calgary city councillors will vote on Wednesday on a proposal to stop its work on a bid to host the 2026 Paralympic and Olympic Games.
Councillor Evan Woolley made the recommendation before a committee meeting Tuesday afternoon, saying “the clock has run out.”
“We do not have acceptable funding in place,” Woolley said, suggesting it wasn’t fair to ask Calgarians to vote in two weeks without a financial agreement in place. “I did not take this decision lightly.”
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The fate of the bid was called into question last week after it was learned the federal government would commit $1.75 billion to the bid, but with one contentious requirement: that the municipal and provincial governments match that investment — something both levels of government said was not possible.
“We had had a number of positive conversations that signalled that they [the federal government] would be willing to go beyond their 50 per cent,” Woolley said. “There are a number of examples of other sporting events that they have exceeded that policy, and obviously I’m disappointed that today we don’t have that.”
The provincial government announced earlier in October it would give $700 million should Calgary be selected as the 2026 host city, with Finance Minister Joe Ceci reiterating a number of times throughout the weekend that there would be no more money from the province. The city, up until late Tuesday afternoon, still had not released how much it intended to contribute.
“Without funding agreements today, we cannot deliver on our mandate,” Woolley said. “There is not a fiscally responsible plan without these funding agreements in place and we cannot be transparent about the details of this plan when there are no details to show on the funding side.”
“I am not bluffing,” Woolley said when asked whether this was a tactic to see if higher orders of government would pony up more money.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the funding promises made so far are “not enough” to operate a successful Olympic Games, despite the fact that the bid always involved a “frugal budget.”
“What we were talking about today were a variety of options that were on the table to essentially close the gap and the question is; are you comfortable with those options? Do they make sense from a risk perspective? Are we staying within the mandate that council gave us? Bluntly, is this a good deal?”
Council is expected to vote on the recommendation on Wednesday — it needs 10 votes to pass.
A vote to end the bid process would effectively cancel the plebiscite scheduled for Nov. 13. Advanced voting has been scheduled to take place on Nov. 6 and 7 and mail-in ballots have already been sent in.
Wooley said that even if a deal were to be reached within a week of the scheduled plebiscite date, it would be “unfair and not in keeping with council’s principles” to ask Calgarians to consider all the details and make an informed decision.
“I think it’s time that we move on,” he said, adding that there are many other issues on councillors’ plates, including the struggling downtown and business communities, the economy, as well as transportation and transit.
Nenshi said he “remains optimistic” despite Tuesday’s recommendation, but maintains his long-held stance that the deal has to be right for Calgary.
“If council does not feel that that deal is good enough for Calgary to take to a vote, then that is absolutely council’s prerogative,” he said.
Woolley tweeted a list of his recommendations, which includes directing the city manager to work toward concluding a cost-sharing arrangement to host the 2026 Games, as well as to direct the city manager and chief financial officer to present a report to council on the total costs spent on the bid process.
The 2026 Bid Corporation said in an emailed statement that “negotiations with government are positive, are continuing — they have not stopped — and we remain confident an agreement will be reached.”
Councillor Jeromy Farkas said if councillors voted Wednesday to keep the bid going, it would move from a “stupid deal to frankly reckless and dangerous.”
“I see no reason at all for us to continue to pursue this,” he said. “It’s moved from a bad deal to a doomsday deal.”
Franco Terrazzano with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said the organization hopes the city takes the “off-ramp” to stop the bid.
“It’s time to stop this bid,” he said. “No levels of government have any money for this.”
He said upgrades to Calgary sporting facilities shouldn’t be contingent on the city hosting the Olympics, adding governments should invest in priorities that need funding.
The group No Calgary Olympics said the recommendation shows council is recognizing the city can’t afford the Games, calling it a responsible choice.
The organization said it’s better to cancel the plebiscite now rather than ask Calgarians to vote when voters already know it’s not affordable.
Alternatively, the organizer of Yes Calgary 2026 is urging all bid supporters to call their representatives at all levels of government to try to keep the flame burning, adding governments and the BidCo should work through the night to come to a deal.
“They’ve got 24 hours, just about, to firm everything up,” Jason Ribeiro said. “I wish them the best in doing so, and knowing that over 1,000 registered ambassadors are hoping for these Games… [we want to know that] political leadership is doing everything they can to salvage this.”
— With files from Global’s Lauren Pullen
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