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Photo courtesy Brian Woychuk

Calgary’s Olympic bid process is reckless

By Derek Baker, May 11 2018 —

The City of Calgary is currently exploring options for a bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics. After a fiery City Council meeting on April 10, which presented Calgary’s bid corporation’s (BidCo) current public engagement status, city councillors voted 9–6 in favour of continuing to explore the city’s potential bid on April 16.

The process of examining whether the city should bid to host the Games has been an absolute mess, to put it bluntly.

Controversy intensified in March when a false report claiming federal and provincial funding for the bid corporation was secured was published and then removed by the city, frustrating councillors and the public alike.

Concerns about the neutrality of BidCo have also been raised. The point of the Olympic BidCo is to determine whether hosting the Games is in the city’s best interests and whether or not Calgarians support the bid. However, the exploratory committee has been called out for their seeming lack of neutrality on the matter. During the April 10 council meeting Ward 7 Councillor Druh Farrell was sharp in her criticism of the perceived lack of neutrality of BidCo’s public engagement plan and the composition of the corporation itself.

The engagement plan has been revised to stress neutrality, though this is an empty aspiration given the already preconceived bias of the committee. In the Calgary Herald, Ward 4 Councillor Sean Chu noted that even after the revisions the public has already lost trust and credibility in the process.

The city has reportedly already spent around $6 million on this botched process. In mid-March, Council voted to inject another $2.5 million of funding into BidCo. What any of that money actually goes towards is not transparent, as BidCo is not subject to Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

This city is under enormous financial constraints. In 2018 alone, the city is projected to deal with a $170-million shortfall. The estimated cost for hosting the Games is $4.6 billion. The provincial and federal debt is also growing, further constraining their funding ability. From a simplistic budgetary point of view, hosting the Olympics in the current situation is reckless.

Arguments in favour of hosting the Olympics in Calgary usually fall into three general categories. First, investment in the Games and resulting attendees is claimed to bolster a city’s infrastructure and economy. Second, there is the nostalgia factor for Calgarians who experienced hosting the 1988 Calgary Games. And third, there is some claim to “prestige” by putting Calgary on an international stage.

The economic impact of hosting the Olympics is not conclusive and varies from host to host. A longform piece by James McBride from the Council on Foreign Relations notes that hosting Olympic Games has not increased long-term employment and has left cities — and countries — straddled with massive levels of debt. Going off recent Games, a net economic benefit of hosting is implausible.

The other two claims are emotional in nature. Myself and many other younger Calgarians who were not yet born and those who moved here after 1988 do not feel the nostalgic desire to recreate the previous event. And it’s simply ridiculous for Calgarians to have such an inferiority complex about their city that they need the validation and recognition of the world through hosting the Olympics.

Calgary’s potential bid will likely culminate in a plebiscite held in the fall, asking whether citizens support the bid or not. Though the result would be non-binding, it would give a clear indication to councillors whether or not Calgarians wish to see the city host the Games. Ultimately, the will of the electorate should be followed, regardless of the outcome. Hopefully, citizens will be able to make an informed choice, provided by ample and neutral information about the potential risks and benefits of the games.

Articles published in the Gauntlet‘s opinion section do not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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