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Calgary to stage plebiscite on 2026 Olympics bid

Calgary City Council is planning to stage a plebiscite to harness public opinion on the Canadian city’s potential bid to host the 2026 winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Calgary’s mooted bid had faced an uncertain future after questions were raised over the cost of the project. At a meeting earlier this month, the city’s priority and finance committee heard that C$6m (€3.83m/$4.48m) has already been spent on exploring a bid, with a full proposal to cost as much as C$30m.

However, the city council last week voted 9-6 in favour of the project, with two of its councillors changing their stance in order to support a proposed bid, keeping it on the table. In the latest development, the council yesterday (Monday) passed a motion by a vote of 14-1 to send local residents to the ballot box to have their say on the bid.

The council is yet to set a date for the plebiscite, but the Calgary Herald newspaper said it will take place some time between October this year and February 2019, if the bid survives a council vote set for June on the financial implications of proceeding with the effort. The plebiscite is expected to cost C$1.96m and the council has not yet clarified how it will fund the initiative.

“Council agreed today, with quite a large majority, that we will go ahead with asking people what they think, once there is a deal to take to the people,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, [if] there’s no deal there, if it looks like we cannot make this work financially or there are other good reasons to not do it, council still has the chance to say, ‘We’re pulling out.’”

City manager Jeff Fielding also hit out at criticism his team has faced in regards to the transparency of the bid process since it took over the from the Calgary bid exploration committee last October.

Speaking yesterday, Fielding urged city councillors to “stick with the structure” agreed at Monday’s session, saying that the bid team should be left to work on the effort without “willy-nilly” directions from council.

Fielding said: “I gotta tell you, I’m done with that folks. I’m absolutely done with that.

“I’ve listened to our folks get castigated over the last several months for mistakes that have been committed — and I’ve made clear that we have made mistakes — (but) we’ve never been clear about who we were responding to, who is the leader of all of this process and who is responsible at the end of the day that we were supposed to report to?”

Nenshi seemingly agreed with Fielding, saying “give the people working on this some oxygen to work on”. Nenshi added: “Let them try and build this vision, let them try and build this financial deal because right now they’re spending all their time responding to sniping from the sidelines.”

Should the bid go ahead, the city, provincial and federal governments would split the C$30m bid cost three ways. The Canadian and Alberta governments have backed the formation of a bid corporation, with the provincial government keen on a plebiscite to assess public support for the Games.

Calgary hosted its sole edition of the winter Olympics in 1988 and will need to submit a complete bid book for the 2026 Games in January. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is due to make a final decision on the host city in September 2019.