I have submitted a Notice of Motion (NOM) to the City Clerk on an important issue that will impact all Calgarians, and indeed impact all taxpayers across Canada. That issue is the potential bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.
I want you, the voters of Calgary, to formally make this decision.
Calgary City Council voted to support the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee (CBEC) with a $4.7M, budget (with an extra $0.3M for City Administration) to help look at whether Calgary should bid for the Olympics; the costs to host the Games; the economic impact; and the facilities that would need to be expanded or built. They had a year to do this. I did not support this initial budget for the CBEC, along with one other colleague. The report comes out July 24th, 2017.
While I will wait for the report, I suspect that it will say Calgary should bid from the reports submitted so far to Council. Doing so would mean another cost for the official bid to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), estimated to cost between $30 to 40 million. If the bid is successful the the City, Province, and Federal Government will have to contribute billions.
This is an important decision for Calgary to make, because of the large amount of money on the line.
Questions We Need to Ask about an Olympic Bid
I submitted this NOM for several important reasons:
- I still have concerns regarding the IOC. They created Vision 2020 to make the games more affordable for host cities, but are they committed to the changes? Many cities have bowed out of bidding due the Games’ massive cost. The IOC says they understand that for the Games to continue, they must be more reasonable in their demands and be more willing to allow host cities to reuse existing facilities to cut costs, but there has been no indication that the IOC is taking seriously the need to change.
- I also have concerns with the model of the Olympic Games: the host country pays for the construction, takes all risks, absorbs cost overruns, and has responsibility for all maintenance once the 17-day event is over. The IOC keeps the rights to advertising and broadcast rights. The IOC places huge demands upon the host city. Then leaves.
- I have questions about the total costs that the CBEC brought forward to Council in June 2017. They predicted the total cost of the Games will be $4.6B and Alberta/Calgary’s share will be $2.4B. The rest would be federal funding. By comparison, the Vancouver 2010 Games cost $8B. Of that, $1B was for security. When I pressed the CBEC, they stated that it would cost $650M. As a former Police Officer, I question this figure.
- Tokyo, which will host the 2020 Summer Games, is already 4 times over their budget.
- The Games are only growing in size, so how are we as a City, 16 years after Vancouver with more events and more athletes, supposed to do this for $4.6B, half the price of the 2010 Games? I think you will agree this is not a realistic estimate.
- The cost that the CBEC estimated does not include the proposed new arena for Calgary, which would be required to host the games. I am completely opposed to taxpayers paying for the construction of an arena. Many cities across North America have seen arena proponents and team owners threaten to take their team to another city unless they receive a new sports venue. Taxpayers are not ATMs for private interests. This topic is separate from the Olympic Bid, but the cost to build another arena was not included in the CBEC report. This could potentially add another $500M.
- Even if Calgary bids for the games and is successful, how are we going to transport the large numbers of athletes, tourists, volunteers, and officials from the airport to the downtown core with no airport connection to our LRT Line?
- I question how we can make this work, when City Administration pulled the rug from under Calgarians and decided to take the full $4.6B LRT funding and put it towards a shortened Green line that would only go to 16th Avenue North. How are we to transport this many people, with no line to the airport? The only option would be to extend the Blue Line, but this means finding money for a connection, when the Centre North line should be the priority for funding.
- I have further concerns regarding the total cost of the Olympics, even using the estimated $4.6B cost from the CBEC. With the Green Line, the City will be near 79% of our allowed debt limit. That figure will decrease when LRT construction ends, but the added cost of the Olympics would push it higher. This is not a good financial position for the City to be in with so many unknowns and potential cost overruns, and other priorities for funding.
Why Calgarians Should Decide
I have been clear to the CBEC about my many concerns, and they know that I was not a supporter of the initial $4.7M to explore this initiative, let alone another $30-40M to woo IOC representatives, who may or may not be serious about their Vision 2020 reforms.
That is why I submitted this Notice of Motion. Calgarians need to have a say. This is not a decision for a small group of politicians, voting to spend billions on a profile event without fully addressing its major financial impact, the risks of cost overruns, and the threats to taxpayers’ money. This will mean higher taxes and more money from your wallet! Politicians come and go, but debt stays, and taxpayers are on the hook. You should decide.
I have always advocated for plebiscites. Politicians like to say they speak for everyone – the “Royal We” – but I believe you know best, because this impacts your wallet. You deserve a say: Should Calgary bid for the Olympics, given its massive financial demands?
If my NOM is successful, and voters make their choice at the ballot box, I will of course respect the vote no matter the outcome. I want Calgarians to have a voice – period.
We Must Decide Now
Elections Calgary has made it clear that now is the last opportunity for them to prepare a ballot, and take the necessary staffing measures, before the October 16th election. Any later, and the opportunity will be gone. The cost associated with adding a plebiscite to the election is roughly $390,000.00. Given the massive number of tax dollars on the line, I believe this is reasonable.
These are your tax dollars. Like you, I only have one wallet, no matter if the dollars are spent by the city, the province, or the country. While I get to vote on this as your Councillor, you should vote too – it is too important for you not to have a vote.
I encourage my Council colleagues to vote in favour of this NOM and give Calgarians a say.