Decision to proceed with Olympic plebiscite caps a wild six-day ride for council

Close Call: Tricia Smith, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee speaks with media after a narrow vote to preserve the 2026 Winter Olympics bid process. The Winter Olympic plebiscite takes place on Nov. 13. (Photo by James Snell/The Press)

After nearly 48 hours of day and night debate and consultation, city council voted on Wednesday, Oct. 31 to proceed with a non-binding plebiscite on whether Calgary should host the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Eight councillors, a bare majority of council voted to withdraw the Nov. 13 plebiscite, while seven others, including Mayor Naheed Nenshi, voted to continue.

But because the motion was to reconsider council’s earlier decision to hold the plebiscite, a super-majority of 10 members was required for the earlier decision to be reversed. The Wednesday decision fell two votes short of that requirement, meaning the plebiscite, and the campaign leading up to it, are still on.

The result, which was greeted with delight by Olympics supporters, and dismay by opponents, puts a majority of council members in the unusual position of opposing something they had earlier supported.

It capped a wild six days of back-and-forth negotiating over how much the city, the province and the federal government, were each prepared to put into the games bid.

In fact, the games bid appeared dead and buried on Tuesday, Oct. 30, when a federal offer was judged by council members to be too far short of what was needed.

But an eleventh hour revision to the financing plan apparently was enough to keep the games bid on track.

Under the new plan, the city will be responsible for a total cash outlay of $390 million of the Games operating budget of $2.87 billion. The Government of Alberta will contribute $700 million and the feds have committed $1.453.

The city will also pony up for a $200-million for an insurance policy to protect stakeholders from Olympic Games cost-overruns, and include $150 million previously earmarked for improvements to the Victoria Park and Stampede Park areas.

After the vote Oct. 31, Naheed Nenshi described the revised plan as a great deal for the city.

“That was the driving force behind my vote today,” said the mayor.

“This is an incredibly good deal. We put in $390 million, of which $40 million is net-new. And in return for that $40 million net-new, we get $4 billion of investment in Calgary.”

Erin Waite, a volunteer with No Calgary Olympics, the anti-bid group, said the new plan hadn’t changed her mind.

“We feel the Olympics is not the right project for Calgary,” she said.

“Many people are concerned with the cost issue, and the potential for cost overruns. I think we can do better than the International Olympic Committee as a partner.”

This is an incredibly good deal. – Naheed Nenshi

Tricia Smith, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee and a four-time Olympian, said she was happy with the vote.

“Calgary has done incredibly good due-diligence in this process. The citizens of Calgary now have a chance to get out there and educate themselves, and vote the way they want on Nov. 13.”

Councillor Evan Woolley, the head of city council’s Winter Olympics committee, said there are still unanswered questions about the Olympic bid.

“Today, the biggest challenge the bid corporation has, as well as those who want to see this go through, is how can we communicate to Calgarians the transaction and deal in front of them? There are a litany of unanswered questions today.”

About James Snell 1 Article
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, James Snell is working as a writer for The Press during the 2018-19 academic year.