What now, Calgary? Olympic No kills project touted as citys best economic hope

What now, Calgary? Olympic No kills project touted as city\s best economic hope
Why Calgary passed on the 2026 Olympics — and whats next for the Games nobody seems to want
Calgary voters have sent politicians a clear message: They want no part of the city's beleaguered bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

The vote is not binding, but should leave those on Calgary city council no doubt. Leading up to this plebiscite, bid organizers had hoped for a Yes vote somewhere in the mid-50s, closer to 60 per cent support if things went well.

“When you have an event that relies so heavily on provincial and federal funding from provincial and federal governments that are currently running significant deficits, that’s going to have a pretty negative impact on the amount of money that comes to other municipalities for important infrastructure,” he said.

They didn't come close. The results were decisive: 132,832 for Calgary hosting (43.6 per cent) and 171,750 against (56.4 per cent). The official result will be made available at 3 p.m. MT on Friday, with results by riding posted Thursday at noon.

The revised security budget for a potential 2026 Calgary Olympic Games was pegged at $495 million. According to the 2026 Bid Corporation (BidCo), the RCMPs national and Alberta headquarters, Calgary Police Service and the Calgary Emergency Management Agency are among the 20 agencies responsible for security.

Scott Stinson: Calgary voters push IOC closer to deserved fate — a bidding process with no bids

After asking voters for guidance, Calgary's council will likely formally halt the city's bidding process at a meeting on Monday.

“I think Edmonton and the Edmonton Metro Region has proven to be a real team player provincially [and] has proven that we have a great economic vision that’s actually going to help grow the provincial economy, which will aid their ability to fund other municipalities into the future.

Edmonton councillor concerned Calgary Olympics might jeopardize funding for other cities

When Calgary initially announced plans to pursue the 2026 Winter Olympics, it all seemed so perfect. Calgary would recapture the Olympic spirit and excitement that enveloped and boosted the city when it hosted the 1988 Winter Games.

But for many, this bid never felt like 1988. Whatever the magical feeling was 30 years ago, it never captured voters. And now, Calgary's nascent Olympic bid has finally lurched to an unceremonious end.

“We all have to be mindful that an event of this scale — with that kind of security bill — potentially makes it challenging to provide sufficient funding to other municipalities in the future,” Walters said.

The Olympics have a problem

Those behind Calgary 2026 did a lot of things right. They engaged and mobilized a cross-section of supportive voices. They attempted to showcase the Games as opportunity to revitalize and refurbish the physical legacy of 1988. Organizers also pointed to a successful bid as a needed economic lifeline for a city whose economy has been crippled by falling oil prices.

No matter the result of the plebiscite Tuesday night, Calgary City Council will still have to vote on how it will move forward — whether it continues to pursue a bid or chooses to put an end to the years-long process.

But as this process evolved, so too did an opposition that grew more mobilized and vocal as decision day approached. With far less money at their disposal than the professional bid committee, a web of critics appear to have effectively delivered their message that this was the wrong event at the wrong time for Calgary.

South Korea's Olympic darlings say they were abused. The women's curling team, nicknamed the Garlic Girls, became a national sensation en route to winning a surprise silver medal on home ice back in February. Now the five women are accusing a former Korean curling official of verbal abuse. They also say their coaches held back prize money and tried to sideline their captain after she got married this summer and they found out she planned to start a family. The coaching staff has denied the allegations and an investigation is underway.

And from an outside perspective, beyond the boosterism of those connected to the Olympic movement, there never seemed to be an overwhelming amount of genuine excitement among everyday Calgarians.

One of football's biggest stars has chosen to sit out the season. All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell had until late yesterday to accept a one-year, $14.4 million US offer from the Pittsburgh Steelers or else miss the entire year. The deadline passed, and Bell will have a chance to land the long-term contract he wants when he becomes a free agent in a few months. A similar situation is playing out in the NHL, where William Nylander is holding out for a better deal from the Leafs.

Perhaps that could have been overcome. Most of the concerns surrounding this bid centred on who would pay for the Games. But voters either didn't like or couldn't understand the numbers they were given. Even on the floor of Calgary city council, leading up to this vote, there was confusion about exactly how much each level of government would provide.

"What is the number we can take to the citizens of the city of Calgary?" Coun. Jeremy Farkas asked.

Judging by the results, the 11th-hour funding agreement by the city, the Alberta government and Ottawa, weeks before this vote, provided Calgarians little clarity or confidence.

This bid also undeniably fell victim to the unpleasant baggage weighing down the Olympic movement. The cynical narrative is familiar by now. Cities spend billions more than initially proposed to host a two-week party that leaves little long-term positive economic impact.

Dwane Casey is back in Toronto. The Raptors fired Casey last spring after another early playoff exit… then saw him win the NBA's coach of the year award a few weeks later. Casey landed on his feet in Detroit, and tonight he returns to Toronto as head coach of the 6-6 Pistons. The Raptors are doing just fine without him, off to a 12-2 start under rookie head coach Nick Nurse.

Robert Livingstone operates the website GamesBids.com and has followed this process closely. He says people are increasingly wise about past Olympic failures.

"It's so ingrained and people perceive that the Olympic culture is corrupt, often real corruption in some cases. They have seen this big build and the overspend."

Livingstone points out the International Olympic Committee has taken steps to mitigate this perception among Calgary voters.

The public was expected to spend $2.875-billion on the Games if Calgary was chosen as host: $1.45-billion from the federal government and $700-million from Alberta. Calgary has been asked to put forward $390-million, along with a $200-million insurance policy against overruns. After the deal was reached, a majority of the council voted against continuing the bid, though that fell short of the two-thirds threshold required to kill it.

Morning Update: Calgary voters say No to Olympics; McGill faces pressure to change team name

In the past, the IOC has rarely interacted or visited with potential host cities. But with fewer cities lining up to host the Olympics, the IOC has resorted to actively selling the Games. Its representatives visited Calgary numerous times in recent months, attending town halls and doing rounds of media interviews.

Livingstone also says the IOC, as part of its Agenda 2020, has taken steps to make the Games easier to bid on and cheaper to host. For example, in past Games, the IOC usually insisted on new buildings, often with little long-term practical use for host cities. But Calgary's bid focused on the IOC-supported idea of mostly refurbishing old facilities instead of building new ones.

The lean bid model may work to counter the Olympic bid narrative, Livingstone says, but it may have actually made a potential bid less attractive for Calgary voters.

Calgarys Olympic spirit put out after decisive plebiscite

"I think Agenda 2020 is a total disconnect in Calgary," Livingstone says. "Agenda 2020 didn't make sense because in Calgary, they want the venues. They wouldn't stop talking about the NHL arena and how they were going to get at it and the rail link to the airport. But because of Agenda 2020, it was left off [and] not included."

Out of 304,774 ballots cast, 171,750 or 56.4 per cent were against Calgary hosting the 2026 Olympics, with 132,832 voting in favour. City council must still formally vote to end the bid, but senior governments have said their financial support of the Games was contingent on the endorsement of Calgarians in a plebiscite.

Calgarians vote No on hosting 2026 Olympic Games

When this process began, there were eight hopeful cities. Only two remain: Stockholm, and a joint Italian bid. And both of those bids face significant internal political hurdles.

“Reason No. 1 is there’s geo-political reasons where it would probably be pretty unlikely that Canada would be successful in a bid for that particular Games. . . . The second reason is, look, this was not a rushed process. We did this over two years together . . . and this was the result,” he said.

"I really think that the IOC is hoping that Stockholm and Italy just go away and then they can work with Salt Lake City."

The American city, like Calgary, also has an Olympic legacy, having hosted the Games in 2002. Livingstone says the difference in Utah is a genuine enthusiasm to do it again.

“We know that. We know that there’s seven cities that are interested in it already and so I wanted to be leaders in the Agenda 2020 and the new norms of the Games, and I thought we were a perfect city for it, so it’s unfortunate.”

"As they say themselves, they can get this done tomorrow [with] 89 per cent public support. They have the Utah governor already signing off on it. They did a feasibility study, and literally they could host the Games next year."

Calgary needs time to regroup and to absorb the lessons from the current experience, Sigler added, and to get beyond some of the current challenges the city is facing. He also thinks any future bid will need to be generated at the community level.

Calgary, along with the rest of the country, will undoubtedly enjoy the 2026 Winter Olympics wherever they eventually land.

“I cannot imagine what would be different four years from now. So if Calgarians have spoken in this way for 2026, and we respect that decision, why would it be any different four years from now?”

We will continue to celebrate medals and Canadian achievement, content to let somebody else foot the bill.

“There are actually lots of really cool, exciting things happening in Calgary,” Allan said, adding CED has a $100-million fund designed to attract and support private and public sector investments in the economy and also continues its efforts to attract and retain companies and head offices. But while it has seen successes on that front — Allan said CED has worked with at least 75 companies this year that have made the decision to come to Calgary or to stay in Calgary — there is no silver bullet for the city’s economic woes.

Jamie Strashin is a native Torontonian whose latest stop is the CBC Sports department. Before, he spent 15 years covering everything from city hall to courts and breaking news as a reporter for CBC News. He has also worked in Brandon, Man., and Calgary. Follow him on Twitter @StrashinCBC

In the absence of an Olympic bid, Allan said CED will continue to work on the economic strategy it unveiled in October. That strategy aims to make Calgary the “city of choice in Canada for the world’s best entrepreneurs” and identifies seven industries where Calgary has a competitive advantage — including energy, agribusiness, transportation and logistics, tourism, creative industries, life sciences and health, and financial services.

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

The Olympic Games would have offered a boost to Calgary’s burgeoning tech sector, making it easier for companies to make international contacts and attract talent and investment, said Cynthia van Sundert. But van Sundert — who serves as executive director of the A100, a community of Alberta tech founders and executives — takes issue with the idea that the Games were Calgary’s best chance.

It is a priority for CBC to create a website that is accessible to all Canadians including people with visual, hearing, motor and cognitive challenges.

Steve Allan, executive chair of Calgary Economic Development — which also mounted a failed bid for Amazon HQ2 last year — mourned the loss of the Olympic opportunity Wednesday. He said there is nothing else on the table for Calgary that would provide a $4.4-billion injection from private or public sources, or attracts billions of dollars’ worth of international media exposure.

The 2026 Winter Olympics lost another city willing to host on Tuesday. Calgarians voted 56.4% against the bid in a non-binding citywide plebiscite, effectively killing any chance of the Olympics making a second visit to Alberta.

Calgary will become the fifth city this year to withdraw their intention to host the 2026 Olympics, joining Sapporo, Japan; Graz, Austria; Sion, Switzerland; and Erzurum, Turkey.

Calgary votes no for 2026 Winter Games

Winning the right to host the Olympic Games was once an impossible dream for most cities. The bid process used to be an intense competition, one that often required multiple pursuits.

"I have to say that 98 per cent of the people I spoke with were very positive about the bid and said they were on their way to vote," she said. "So I think the momentum had changed. It was a matter of getting information out there. I think theres a lot of people in Calgary that still see the varied benefits of the Games.

When Calgary won the right to host the 1988 Olympics, it came after seven failed attempts by Canada to host the Winter Games, including three by Calgary in 1964, 1968, and 1972.

Toronto had its heart broken when it lost to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Canadas biggest city didnt even make the top-two for the 1996 Games, finishing behind both Athens and the eventual winner Atlanta.

Smith took a red-eye flight back to Toronto after trying to drum up support in Calgary on Tuesday. However, a majority of voters said no to a potential Calgary bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games with 56.4 per cent of those who went to the polls casting a dissenting vote.

When it came to picking the host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, eventually won by Vancouver, the International Olympic Committee had eight cities apply, rejecting four of them.

CPC president Marc-Andre Fabien said a home Games would have "united the nation" and energized people across the country. In a statement, he said hes pleased "the people of Calgary had the opportunity to share their voice."

Winter Olympics 2026: Calgary voters reject hosting bid, Canada

All four of the cities that were rejected early on in the proceedings had the support of their people, including the 1984 Winter Olympic host city Sarajevo, which had 93.2% in favour of hosting.

Vancouver had relatively low support for the Games by comparison, with just 64% voting in favour of hosting in a 2003 city plebiscite. Bern was the only city to remove itself from consideration.

Hosting the Olympics more than once used to be a deal-breaker, but not anymore. With just two candidate cities remaining for the 2022 Winter Olympics, most observers saw Beijing as the only strong contender. Theyll host the Winter Games just 14 years after welcoming the world for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Following withdrawals of Hamburg, Budapest, and Rome, just two cities were left in the running for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Instead of split-screen drama – filled with elation on one side and crushing disappointment on the other – the IOC decided to award 2024 to Paris and give 2028 to Los Angeles.

Calgarys No vote a squandered opportunity for a city in need

While the Olympic Games are still an incredibly popular sporting event for viewers, both in-person and on television, the job of hosting has become too daunting. The estimated cost of the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang is $12.9 billion, and thats for the Winter Olympics, which are cheaper to run.

Guilty of building too many white elephant sporting venues in Games gone by, the IOC is more willing to make use of existing infrastructure now. They have to. But the Olympics still arent cheap, especially when you take into account rising security costs.

The timing wasnt perfect for Calgary time around, but it makes you wonder. If a city so proud of its Olympic history in a rich country like Canada wants nothing to do with hosting, just how many cities will be capable of bidding going forward?