The Olympic bid might die on Monday (and what it means for Calgary’s arena saga)

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.

What’s happening?

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.

Date Vote On… For Against
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:

Unless somebody changes their mind in the next few days, it seems likely that the bid dies on Monday.

Arena implications

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.

    • Chillout

      I think that is an extremely short sighted view (your comments below included). I am an Olympic athlete and I was in no way a professional paid athlete. I paid coaching fees at the beginning of each season like everyone else. I was ranked high enough that I was paid by the government. I got $1,500/month to live on while training FULL time. Try paying your mortgage, food, fuel, bills, and other expenses on that. For the larger part of my career I had no sponsors and the best year of my life as an athlete I made $30,000 dollars (total) thanks to a grant I was lucky enough to receive. We also didn’t stay in swanky hotels, or fly everywhere, etc. when travelling with the national team it was cheap hotels and hostels, 20 hour drives across Europe. Train everyday, compete, drive to next race and repeat. Of the 12 years I was on the national team I think we spent less than 15 days sightseeing. It’s not the crazy awesome life of luxury/vacation you seem to envision.

      As for the Olympics themselves this is a great opportunity for our city to bring the attention of the world back to Calgary and show them just how great of a place this is to live and work. That would be good for everything from Tourism to bringing in more corporate headquarters to fill all the vacancies downtown and maybe even diversify the Alberta economy a little bit.
      This is also an opportunity to fund a number of desperately needed infrastructure projects that are years behind (ie.our C-train lines). We would also likely get money to clean up and improve a number of areas around town to help beautify and improve our city.
      In addition to all of that you would get a greater influx of kids looking to try some of the sports they just went out and watched at the Olympics and maybe even encourage more parents/grandparents etc. to be more active.

      So yes tax money would be spent (amount would not be close to some recent Olympics) but the benefits could seriously outweigh the risks with greater tourism dollars pouring in to the city, more companies moving to the city (jobs, tax dollars), improved infrastructure, more kids in sport, more active population (leads to lower health care costs), improved sport facilities in the city (bring more international competitions and more facilities for kids), a new athletes village could become low income housing after the games. Can you imagine if Calgary were left with another legacy similar to the first time we hosted.

      The list goes on and on of the benefits and the risk is we lose money, but do we just never take risks in the hopes that the government will use our tax money to fund whatever program it is “that they could use that money for” (common complaint). That will never happen and hosting the Olympics is actually a probably better way to get some of those programs funded as they will be more visible.

      All in all this is a good thing for Calgary and we should be hoping that the bid moves forward.

      • Flames fan since 83

        Chillout, thanks for your post. Well put prospective from an athlete, and as well as posting benefits to the City.
        And thank you for representing our Great Country and City.

    • buts

      Doesn’t anyone realize that the olympics could bring low income housing, infrastructure like c-train lines and new or up graded facilities with provincial, federal dollars that would NOT normally be available.

  • Flames fan since 83

    Personally, I feel the process is working. From the beginning, most of our council were on board with exploring the possibility of a bid. As more information is gathered, there are some council members crossing over to the “against” side. Which means they are listening to both the information gathered and the members of their constituency.
    Isn’t this the way is’t supposed to work??
    Also note for some/many in this city, Mayor Nenshi does not vote unless there is a tie. Yes, he leads the group, but at the end of the day, it is a group decision. (this last point is to the folks who constantly complain that Nenshi has made up his mind and he will do what ever he wants to do. This is not the case!).
    I’m hopeful we continue to explore the Olympic bid. But I trust whom we all have voted in to council, and accept what ever decision is made.

    • kirby

      It’s been explored enough. It’s been proven repeatedly that for host cities these days, the costs do not outweigh the benefits. Even the millions and millions of dollars it costs just to pay the crooked IOC for the “privilege” of ASKING to be considered, give me a break. It’s a joke. The Olympics are a sham. There are SO SO SO MANY THINGS the city could do with these funds that would actually benefit our city. We don’t need the Olympics. Not even a little bit.

      • Chillout

        I love how everyone thinks that if we don’t host the Olympics then billions that would have been spent on the games will be funneled to all the programs and projects they want. Hate to break it to you guys no extra money shows up without the Olympics. All that will happen is people will realize later what a great opportunity that was missed. Our forward thinkers were there in 1988 and Calgary hosted the first profitable games and an amazing legacy was left behind. We could have this again.

  • Parallex

    If I had any confidence that the games could be run at a break even level (and hopefully some profit) I’d be all in favor of it… I currently lack that confidence. I have the same views on the games that have on a new arena… I’m fine with doing it but it has to make fiscal sense for the city and it’s taxpayers.

      • Flames fan since 83

        Brazil and Greece are exactly the reason why it might be a good time. Never before has the IOC offered so much money back to the host country for Security. Also they have relaxed the rules on venue quality and things like mandatory parking allotment even at lowely attended events.
        Because of Greece and Brazil losing so much $, fewer countries are even considering hosting. Not to mention the IOC desperately wants to have a olympic games in North America where the highest amount of TV revenue is. The last 3 Winter Olympics were in the Asia (Sochi, Korea, China).
        It’s time to put the screws to the IOC to anti up and make this financially viable.

          • Flames fan since 83

            The innitial costing report budgeted the IOC giving 700 million Canadian for Security. A couple of months ago when the IOC was in town, they offered 900 million US dollars for security. This was IOC first offer. And we were not even in the official group of cities bidding.
            There is more money to be negotiated.

      • Chillout

        Part of the problem with these countries is that they should never have been awarded the games in the first place. When you have these countries that slap facilities together at the last second for enormous cost while government officials and company owners are siphoning off huge amounts of cash, then yes the games are going to cost a lot more than they should. We already have 90% of the facilities in place, there is no corruption here (minimal anyway) and all our facilities are being used now and will continue to be used after the games.

  • JoelOttosJock

    I am not a fan of the olympics, outside of mens hockey when the bnhl players compete. I would rather see that money and resources put towards minor sports.

      • JoelOttosJock

        No, that is not true. Do you consider Sean White an amatuer? Not a chance, no olympic athletes are amatuers, they are paid to compete or have their training, lodging etc paid for. I meant minor sports like little league, minor hockey, etc where the athletes are kids.

        • Flames fan since 83

          Funny how you mention all you care about is the NHL (professionals).
          And then stand on a soap box.
          Have you ever talked to a speed skater, or luger, or Sledge hockey player. How about the young cyclist, wrestlers, runners, etc. The olympics are really all they aspire to. They are true amatuers/ minor sports players.

          • kirby

            Yeah they aspire to play these sports, does that mean that millions upon millions of OUR tax dollars need to be paid to the IOC to host them? What’s more important, the novelty of saying “we hosted Olympics!” and being left to clean up and foot the bill, or developing our own kids in our own minor sports leagues and giving THEM better means to pursue their dreams and learn the disciplines etc that team sports can teach?

            (and if the vast majority of them are sponsored and paid year round to train and compete and qualify for Olympics, then is that really “amateur”? Like yeah, good for them, they work hard and are great at what they do. What’s that have to do with OUR money? Why does that supersede OUR youth development? For novelty? No thanks.)

  • jupiter

    You say the City and the Flames will both be desperate for a win, and might restart talks. Can’t see it ! I honestly doubt the Flames will ever talk to Nenshi.

    • Flames fan since 83

      Jupiter, your another example of “not getting it”.
      The Flames don’t need to talk to Nenshi as he doesn’t vote! There are 15 council members (all of them) that voted down the Flames offer.
      Just look at how my alderman (Southerland) was a for and now after listening to more information will vote Against. Good on him for keeping an open mind and then making a decision. (more open than Chu or Farkas or Nenshi). Nenshi wants the Olympics, but may not get his wish.
      So, to repeat, the Flames don’t have to deal with Nenshi.

    • WillyWonka

      you realize Nenshi is only one vote, the rest of the counsel has to vote as well… the city is willing to negotiate, but the owner and league have decided it was time to use the nuclear option, and threaten to move the team.
      By the way, how bout them jets? great story there, unlike Calgary where the fans rallied around the team almost 20 years ago, only to be threatened again with moving. how much did this sour the atmosphere and contribute to the under-performing year? i sure think it had an effect

    • kirby

      More like the Flames won’t talk to the city if they keep demanding that the city pays for everything while the organization takes all the benefits. They have this pipe dream of replicating the insane deal the Oilers got in Edmonton, and it’s just not gonna happen. CSE and Murray Edwards demands are completely unrealistic, and until they are willing to come more towards the middle then “who they will ever talk to” is completely irrelevant because right now, nothing they have to say matters. You act like it’s the Mayor’s fault a new stadium isn’t done yet. It’s actually kind of Edmonton’s fault lol if they weren’t such spineless pushovers with Katz up there, then this ownership group wouldn’t have these absurd expectations of not paying for anything and keeping all the profits for themselves.

  • Stu Cazz

    Having the Olympics would not have necessarily guaranteed a new arena. Bid cities that have held previous olympics would have used a lower cost strategy meaning use of existing facilities and sharing with neighbouring cities. For Calgary that would have meant major downhill skiing events in Whistler and hockey in both Calgary & Edmonton. Nenshi had made it clear that the major games would be played in the city to the north. So in essence Calgary takes the financial risk and the major events are held elsewhere. This all from the “smartest man in the room” mayor who despises private business engagement and partners. No thanks to the Olympics….

      • Flames fan since 83

        Oil Can. It amazes me how Stu knows the final decisions, when they (people in council and study group including Rick Hansen) don’t have final information (like how much $ the IOC is going to finally anti up). Yes, they have discussed many scenario’s, that I’m sure Stu read or heard. But I believe it show’s a lot of ignorance when you make a strong conclusion, based on your hatred of an individual (Smartest man in the room).

  • freethe flames

    Boring story ; the story that won’t go away.

    I looking at the season and have decided to share my thoughts about the the organization; giving out a trash it (fail) or cheers (pass) grade to management, coaching and each player and I’m asking you to play along. I will give my reasoning for each grade and you an either trash it if you think the group failed or cheer it if you think they passed this year. Today I’m going to babble on about the management team. I give them a fail. KK a fail because of his arrogance towards the tax payers of Calgary, BB a failure because if his job is help BT then not protecting the draft pick for Hamonic is somewhat on him. BT and the whole management team a failure. I like Bt and some of his moves over his time here but this year he and his staff get a fail. Here are my following reasons; I am okay with aquisition of Smith and Hamonic although not protecting the draft pick hurts. My biggest beef is that they have yet to address the top 6 RHS issue and failed to even recognize it this year. The management staff completely failed to address the need for more skill at forward; they got it wrong. We would have likely been better off if the assets used on Hamonic had been used to add a top 6 forward; maybe 2 and allowed Rasmus to play as a full time D this year. The other issue is that he did not fire the coach during the season; it is clear that GG decision making process is lacking, player usage during the game; horrid PP to name a few. The fact that it appears that all 3 teams in the organization will not make the playoffs also suggests that they have not done a good enough job building the depth in this organization. This year has been a fail for management.

  • Rockmorton65

    I used to be a fan of the Olympics, but I haven’t been for a while, now. It used to be about countries coming together to compete in goodwill. With the corruption of the IOC and the fact it’s become a corporate cash grab, that doesn’t exist anymore. There used to be standards of ethics, rules and a level of excellence needed to host. Now it’s simply local politicians wanting to be the one to say they were the ones who got the Olympics.

  • Hockeysense93

    The problem with Calgary politics is Calgary politics lol. If there was anybody even remotely competent to run for Mayor and supplant Nenshi…it would have been done. Nenshi was voted in again out of circumstance, not competence. He bungles over and over and the citizens are stuck with it. He has no idea how to run a big “business” centre like Calgary. Alienating everybody around him, thinking he has the people’s best interests in his ear? This city is on a slippery slope and getting worse under his direction. He has no vision what-so-ever and the city will pay dearly for it…for many decades to come.

  • kittensandcookies

    There’s no change we get the game anyhow. Did you know the Italian city that ran against Calgary in the ’88 Olympics is also bidding in this Olympics? Gee, what a coincidence. Also it’s been ages since Europe’s had a Winter Games. Hmm…