Calgary 2026 bid ball bounces to province, feds ahead of plebiscite

CALGARY — The Canadian government supports a Calgary bid for the 2026 Winter Games should the city go ahead. It has said so via the federal sports minister and social media.

The government of Alberta's tone is a more reserved wait-and-see.

But Calgary's potential bid hinges on how much money those two orders of government would be willing to contribute to hosting the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Canadian sports minister Kirsty Duncan told The Canadian Press she was pleased Calgary city council voted earlier this week to keep a bid alive.

Sport Canada posted several tweets in recent days, and before the vote, reinforcing the federal government's support for a bid if the city decides to do it.

"Our government is pleased by the vote," Duncan said Wednesday from Saskatoon in a phone interview.

"Calgary is a world-class city. It's got a proven track record of hosting major international games. Many of us, I'm certainly one of them, remember Calgary 1988 when it hosted the Winter Olympics.

"It left a lasting legacy that I believe had benefited the city, the province and the country. We have supported the development of Calgary 2026 Winter Games bid from the very beginning."

The draft hosting plan presented to city council by the bid corporation Calgary 2026 asks that the city, province and federal government contribute a combined $3 billion in taxpayer dollars to the cost of running the games, which was estimated at $5.23 billion.

How that $3 billion amount would be split has yet to be announced, but Calgarians will demand an answer prior to heading to the polls Nov. 13 for a plebiscite asking them if they want the games or not.

It was the Alberta government that insisted on a plebiscite. The province is contributing $2 million to the cost of the vote.

"Now that bidco has released those numbers we're going to go through the due diligence of ensuring that the numbers are what they are," Alberta tourism minister Ricardo Miranda said Wednesday in Edmonton.

The minister said Calgarians will know what the province's contribution to hosting would be at least 30 days prior to the plebiscite.

"I never reveal numbers until I actually have a basic good understanding of what the position of others might be," Miranda said.

"I will say, however, that we are very much engaged and will continue to be (engaged) to ensure that we have the best deal and that it makes sense for Albertans."

In a letter to Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, Duncan said that as per the federal government's policy for hosting international sporting events "we are committed to considering a contribution of up to 35 per cent of total event costs, and we will not exceed 50 per cent of the total public sector contributions to the event."

Calgary 2026 hopes that means a maximum contribution of $1.5 billion from the feds, but the minister would not commit to that figure Wednesday.

"Canadians expect us to do our due diligence," Duncan said. "There are many departments and agencies that will have to review the numbers and that's what we're focused on.

"The citizens of Calgary will get to voice their opinions and we want to make sure Calgarians are behind the bid."

The deadline to submit a 2026 bid to the International Olympic Committee is Jan. 11. The successful host city will be announced Sept. 11, 2026.

Meanwhile, a pair of economists question the bidco's estimate of $7.4 billion in various economic benefits to the province should Calgary host the Winter Games.

University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe called that figure "dramatically overstated."

"We definitely shouldn't be under the impression that the Games will generate economic benefits that exceed the costs," he said.

Concordia economics professor Moshe Lander says the projections of how much tourists will spend in the city during the games has to be offset by the number of Calgarians who leave town and take their dollars elsewhere "because the circus is coming."

"Clearly the people presenting the bid are not presenting a balanced picture," Lander said. "They're interested in presenting a picture that is supportive of hosting the Olympics.

"The benefits are going to be overstated and to me, that is also a concern."

— Lauren Krugel and Dean Bennett contributed to this story.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press