After several lengthy council meetings, umpteen debates in the media and a lot of vague information (and misinformation), Calgary’s flirtation with bidding for the 2026 Winter Olympics may be coming to an end. In Tuesday’s meeting of Calgary City Council’s priorities and finance committee, the body voted to have a “temperature check” vote in Monday’s full council meeting to gauge their willingness to continue the bid process.
If a majority of council doesn’t vote to continue the process, the bid will die.
Yesterday’s committee meeting featured a motion to approve having a plebiscite to gauge public support for a bid – a vote has been proposed by the provincial government as a condition of funding the full bid. Seems simple, right? The ideal scenario is having a fully costed-out bid book ready for public consumption so that people know what they’re voting on – you wouldn’t agree to buy a car before you test drove it or knew what it would cost, right? But the bid book won’t be ready until the end of the Bid Corporation’s work, after they’ve spent the remainder of their $30 million budget figuring out the nuts and bolts of the budget itself. (If you’re asking yourself what the Bid Exploration Committee did, their job was to evaluate feasibility but not logistics.)
The timing of having a plebiscite is challenging (the fastest it can be done is six months), the cost is pretty big (around $1.9 million), and several members of council have expressed concerns about (a) how the process has been going thus far, (b) how much money’s already been spent, and (c) various details of the composition and governance of the Bid Corporation. As a result, a growing contingent in council has been seeking to throw the brakes on the whole thing.
Shifting support for a bid
In less than two years, support for exploring a 2026 Olympic bid (and eventually submitting a bid) has seriously eroded within City Council.
|6/20/16||Conducting bid feasibility study||12 (Carra, Chabot, Colley-Urquhart, Demong, Jones, Magliocca, Nenshi, Pincott, Pootmans, Stevenson, Sutherland, Woolley)||2 (Chu, Farrell)|
|1/23/17||Endorsing bid feasibility results||13 (Carra, Chabot, Colley-Urquhart, Demong, Jones, Keating, Magliocca, Nenshi, Pincott, Pootmans, Stevenson, Sutherland, Woolley)||2 (Chu, Farrell)|
|7/31/17||Keep developing bid, move to “invitation stage”||9 (Carra, Chabot, Jones, Magliocca, Nenshi, Pootmans, Stevenson, Sutherland, Woolley)||4 (Chu, Demong, Farrell, Pincott)|
|11/20/17||Formal funding request to do pre-work for bid||9 (Carra, Chahal, Davison, Gondek, Jones, Keating, Nenshi, Sutherland, Woolley)||4 (Chu, Farkas, Farrell, Demong)|
|1/29/18||Continue pre-work for bid, nudge governments for funding||10 (Carra, Chahal, Colley-Urquhart, Davison, Jones, Keating, Magliocca, Nenshi Sutherland, Woolley)||5 (Chu, Farkas, Farrell, Demong, Gondek)|
|3/19/18||Forming a bid corporation, once other government chip in||8 (Carra, Chahal, Colley-Urquhart, Davison, Jones, Keating, Sutherland)||6 (Chu, Farkas, Farrell, Gondek, Demong, Magliocca)|
Ward 7’s Druh Farrell and Ward 3’s Sean Chu have been consistent in their opposition from the start – Farrell for several principled reasons and Chu seemingly just likes to oppose things – but they’ve been joined gradually by more and more council members. Their current crew of opposers has grown to include Ward 11’s Jeromy Farkas, Ward 14’s Peter Demong, Ward 3’s Jyoti Gondek and Ward 2’s Joe Magliocca. If that group hits eight members, then it’ll hold sway in the 15-person council and be able to put the bid to bed.
Last week Ward 13’s Diane Colley-Urquhart indicated she was “reconsidering” her support for a bid. And on Tuesday, Ward 1’s Ward Sutherland went a bit further:
— Ward Sutherland (@Ward4Ward1) April 10, 2018
Unless somebody changes their mind in the next few days, it seems likely that the bid dies on Monday.
The pursuit of an Olympic bid both helped and hurt the possibility of a new Calgary Flames arena: if it was being built specifically for the bid it would hurt (as the new Olympic reforms discourage building new facilities), but if it was being built regardless it would’ve strengthened the feasibility of the bid.
The finances were the challenging part, though. On one hand, the bid itself tied up a lot of money (and much of the city’s debt capacity) in an endeavour that didn’t guarantee an arena would get built – it’s unclear if the funding was from the same pot of money as was ear-marked for the arena or another source, as the Bid Exploration work was a bit light of that type of detail. One of the positives of an Olympic bid would have been bringing in federal and provincial infrastructure funding, which could have been used to potentially fund a new arena, while the bid process carried with it a series of pressure points in the form of International Olympic Committee deadlines that could’ve gotten the Flames and the City back to the bargaining table.
But no Olympic bid means no Olympics, which has been a big talking point (and seemingly a big priority) for mayor Naheed Nenshi. If you’re the type that thinks the mayor will be “looking for a win” after the bid’s probable demise, perhaps this gets the Flames and the City talking again as Nenshi might try to get something done to kick-start the proposed Victoria Park cultural and entertainment district, which was his other big election priority. Considering the year the Flames have had on and off the ice, they might be just as desperate for a win as the mayor.
Where we go from here
Monday’s City Council meeting now includes the “temperature check” motion proposed by Farrell. If council votes to continue with the bid, there’s a ton of work and decisions left to be made. If they kill the bid, there will be other implications. Either way, there will be some impacts on the quest for a new building for the Flames.