Opinion: 2026 Olympic bid will help revive Calgarys soul

Opinion: 2026 Olympic bid will help revive Calgary\s soul
Calgarians dont want to host Olympics, according to poll
Should Calgary vote yes in next weeks Olympic plebiscite and eventually be awarded the Winter Games, its prized event will be hosted entirely in Calgary. The Calgary 2026 Bid Corporation felt the need to reiterate that point this week via a myth-busting section on its website following months of misinformation, spins and half-truths from both sides the debate.

Calgarians have less than a week until the Nov. 13 plebiscite to separate fact from fiction, while trying to overcome the frustration of a bid marred by changes right up until last weeks bid-saving vote. One of the most perplexing components of the draft hosting plan concept revolves around the two rinks tabbed to host hockey games.

“When something bad threatens to happen, security people do what they have to do,” says crisis expert Jim Stanton, who worked on both the Vancouver Games and Calgary’s G8 leaders meeting in 2002.

Braid: The false fear of cost overruns for Olympic security

The Scotiabank Saddledome – an aging product of the 1988 Games – was declared adequate by touring IOC officials vowing to make the Games more affordable for potential bid cities. Prior to that the desire to keep costs down on new venues prompted talk of farming the hockey tourney out to Edmontons shiny new rink, which was as well-received in Calgary as a pipeline protest.

As part of the bid, the 19,289-seat Dome would receive tens of millions of dollars in renovations to host up to three games a day, including the mens medal matches and the womens gold medal game. Upgrades to the 35-year-old façade would include enhanced accessibility, extended life of ice plant, as well as mechanical and structural maintenance.

Ottawa assumed full responsibility for the spending. In return, the provincial government agreed to pay some unrelated infrastructure costs that were technically Ottawa’s responsibility.

The other hockey venue would be one of two legacy facilities to be built for the games – a 5,000-seat arena to be built next to McMahon Stadium.

The bid corporations unveiling of plans for the medium-sized rink was met with tremendous derision from many, including Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who wondered what good a rink that size would do for Calgarians outside of the 18-day party. (The bid suggests it would host University hockey, local, provincial and national tourneys, as it would also include a second community rink.)

The cost of the arena is lumped in with a neighboring (and much-needed) field house to be built for a combined $400 million. It prompted locals to ask why, say, $150 million for the rink couldnt be thrown towards a new, $550 million NHL event centre like the one the city and the Calgary Flames abandoned talks on more than a year ago.

In Vancouver, the deal with the International Olympic Committee stipulated that security costs were the responsibility of the federal government and the province, not the city.

A city council committee was recently struck with an eye on reigniting talks with the club. Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. (CSEC) spokesman Ken King said hed entertain such meetings but only if all talks were kept out of the media. They have been so far.

“There hasn’t been anything like it at this stage before, as far as I know,” says John Furlong, former boss of Vancouver’s Olympic Organizing Committee.

The Calgary 2026 bid includes keeping the door open for the possible addition of a world-class arena/event centre should the Flames and the city somehow bridge the massive gap between them.

There are two schools of thought on that possibility. Some believe an Olympic bid would tap out the city of any potential funds for an arena deal with CSEC.

The revelation could encourage the wrong people. It also alarmed some Calgarians by suggesting the organizers would scrimp on safety to make the budget look good.

Others believe the promise of the Olympics would spur the mayor on to add to the Games legacy by finding a way to broker a deal with the Flames to add a new stadium as a crown jewel to the event, much the same way a new rapid-transit line and convention centre were built in time for the Vancouver Games, outside of that bids budget. Where it gets tricky is that the feds and the province have long said they arent in the business of funding NHL arenas, making it a bit of a grey area if the rink is included in an Olympic bid that includes $1.45 billion from Ottawa and $700 million from the Alberta government.

Regardless, theres still widespread disbelief in town that an Olympic Games with a budget of $5.075 billion would not somehow include the proper sized arena.

Overruns could be caused by nightmares we’d rather not think about — a planned attack from bad people via cyberspace, from the air, or on the ground.

Had the Flames and the city been able to quietly broker a deal to get a new venue built as part of the Olympic discussions, many believe it would have been the tipping point on an extremely divisive plebiscite that could easily go either way. Alas, its not on the table.

But senior security people hate talking about details. They do not want public release of budget numbers, or staffing details, or overall strategic planning.

What is also yet to be determined are the two practice facilities for the Olympic tourney. The draft hosting plan suggests the two arenas at Max Bell Centre would be used.

But overall, the early disclosure led people to expect a level of detail that can’t possibly be supplied eight years before the event.

A bid spokeswoman said Father David Bauer arena would be used, as it is also situated in the Foothills cluster next to McMahon.

The recent report by Calgary 2026 Bid Corp. of cuts in security budgeting, by $155 million, was potentially counterproductive in a dangerous way.

In the final week leading to next Wednesdays plebiscite, Calgary 2026 supporters have hosted a number of rallies that have included appearances by endless Canadian Olympians including Donovan Bailey, Cassie Campbell-Pascall and even famous British ski jumper Eddie the Eagle of 1988 fame.

Federal messaging, such as it is, went badly awry when Sport Minister Kirsty Duncan suggested Ottawa wouldn’t pay for any overruns.

Donovan Bailey of Canada celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men’s 100 meter final at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Saturday, July 27, 1996. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

The full press is on to get frustrated Calgarians over city councils bungling to date and focus on the billions in funds being injected into the city. Hockey Canada president and COO Scott Smith said he was consulted on the bid 18 months earlier when the initial plan included using the 68-year-old Corral. But not since.

Were encouraging people to vote and were telling them we voted yes, said Smith, well-versed in how extensively the bowels of the Dome would have to be renovated to accommodate the 12-team mens tourney. (The womens tourney includes eight nations).

The Olympics is a great showcase for sports and it would be amazing to have the Olympic games operated on Canadian soil and, ultimately, in Calgary.

They are battling a No vote campaign based largely on the argument the city cant afford to put itself at financial risk with the Games, especially given the provinces tattered economy.

On November 13 Calgarys residents will vote on whether they want to host the Games in eight years time, but Naheed Nenshi said that a yes vote “does not necessarily mean yes at all costs”.

A yes would set in motion a final preparation for the bid to the IOC in January, followed by a vote in June awarding the 2026 Games to one of the expected finalists, Calgary, Milan-Cortina DAmpezzo, Italy or Stockholm, Sweden.

There are no current plans in place for NHL players to return to the Olympics, although its widely assumed a tournament held in North America would make it a no-brainer for a return of best on best.

Just a week ago it looked as if the bid might collapse due to a lack of a funding agreement between Calgary City Council and the Federal and Provincial Governments. 

However, the league has one, maybe two collective bargaining agreements to tackle before that, and the Olympics will certainly be used as a pawn in both sides negotiating tactics.

Fifty-one per cent in favour of hosting would be enough for the yes vote to win the plebiscite, but Nenshi added that he would like to see a greater majority either way.

If the bid continues past next Wednesday you can bet there will be plenty more moves in this high stakes chess match.

The announcement included a letter saying the required total of CAD$2.875 billion (£1.721 billion/$2.190 billion/€1.929 billion) of public funds would be met.

Thursday, November 8, 2018, 4:18 PM – Calgarians do not support hosting the Olympic Games, according to a new poll commissioned by CBC News. The poll suggests only 35 per cent of Calgarians eligible to vote in the Olympic plebiscite would vote to host the Games. Fully 55 per cent are opposed and 10 per cent are undecided.

Calgary Councillors voted 8-7 in favour of approving a recommendation to terminate the bid, but this fell short of the 10 votes required for the motion to pass.

Provincially, 51 per cent would support hosting the Games, while 36 per cent are opposed and 13 per cent undecided.

The Town Council voted by six to one in favour of Calgary hosting in 2026, with their Mayor John Borrowman saying he is confident this is the right decision.

“I am approaching this poll cautiously,” said Janet Brown, who conducted the poll. “Every poll is a snapshot in time and this is probably an especially blurry snapshot given how much uncertainty was happening while this poll was being administered.”

Swedish capital Stockholm and a joint Italian bid from Milan and Cortina DAmpezzo are the other contenders but neither have secured Government support.

Brown points to the fluidity of the debate at the time of the polling, with intense rounds of negotiations taking place between governments and a last-minute funding deal that was brought before city council at the 11th hour.

The sample size was also small at 243 people, with a margin of error of 6.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

It was signed by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Federal Minister of Sport Kirsty Duncan, and also included a space for Nenshis signature.

Provincially, the survey of 900 people has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

While the plebiscite is not officially until November 13, advanced voting has already started with long lines reported at polling stations.

“What were seeing is a lead for the No side that exceeds the margin of error,” she said. “So these numbers are well outside the margin of error. Its a small sample, but a well constructed sample.”

It is also claimed it will lead to CAD$1 billion (£599 million/$762 million/€672 million) in wages for Calgarians and 15,400 jobs.

The poll also shows support has plummeted from an earlier survey in June, which found 50 per cent of Calgarians and 58 per cent of Albertans supported a bid.

That survey posed a slightly different question, asking if respondents wanted to continue exploring a bid.

The poll suggests things have started to improve for the Yes side, however, since a funding agreement was negotiated and presented to the public on Oct. 30. Support has climbed from a low of 26 per cent prior to the announcement to 39 per cent after.

“Really, I think what this poll indicates is that this race isnt over and that the final few days — the final few days are always important in an election campaign, or any kind of campaign, but these final days are going to be particularly important in this plebiscite,” said Brown.

The poll found support for the Games was particularly high among 18- to 24-year-olds (59 per cent), single people (56 per cent), those with children under 18 in their home (55 per cent) and Edmontonians (54 per cent).

The vote takes place on Nov. 13, but advanced polling opened on Tuesday and continues on Wednesday. Long lines formed early on the first day at some stations.

The poll was conducted between Oct. 24 and Nov. 3 but was paused Oct. 30-31 due to uncertainty around the future of the bid.