If Calgary gets Olympics, council will hit governments for more cash

If Calgary gets Olympics, council will hit governments for more cash

Sure, Calgary has secured Olympic commitments for more than $2 billion from other levels of governments.

But one city councillor says if Calgary is named the host city of the 2026 Games, it will soon be banging on those doors looking for more cash.

In a video outlining his reasons for voting in support of an Olympic bid in Tuesday's plebsicite, Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said landing the Games will give Calgary leverage to go after money for other projects.

Those projects would complement that event. 

His list of other projects includes an arena to replace the Saddledome, an LRT connection to the airport, a passenger rail line to the Rockies, and renovations to Arts Commons and Olympic Plaza.

But it all starts with voting for the Olympics in the plebisicite, keeping Calgary's chances of being named host city for the 2026 Olympics and Paralympics alive.

"This actually, I believe, leverages our ability to go after more money. We can say 'the Olympics are coming and we also need these things' and we can go after that money as well," said Carra in the video.

When asked if that's realistic, Carra said eight years is a long time.

"If the world is coming to Calgary in 2026 for the Games, that ultimately will help us make the cases for the things we need to build," said the councillor.

"It will help us continue to be a serious net source of revenue for Alberta and Canada."

Others don't like Calgary's chances

Other members of council are skeptical the federal and provincial governments will welcome more funding requests from Calgary. 

Coun. Peter Demong said Carra's logic is not realistic.

"We're all allowed our own personal views," said Demong. "Considering the federal and provincial governments' finances, once we've asked for this money for the Olympics, the next ask could be that much harder."

Coun. Jyoti Gondek doesn't like Calgary's odds if it goes looking for more cash. She's pushing for council to prioritize its list of major projects before looking for money from Edmonton and Ottawa.

"To think that hosting the Olympics will get us leveraging to unlock more capital is perhaps a little bit naive," said Gondek. 

She wants council to figure out sooner rather than later what it can or cannot afford to invest in, especially if Calgarians support an Olympic bid. 

That potential bid requires $390 million from city hall.

If I were the different levels of government, I'd tell them to pound sand. - Coun. Sean Chu

Another Olympic opponent, Coun. Sean Chu, said Carra's claim proves his point about the potential for overruns if Calgary does bid for the Games. 

He said it sounds like Carra is trying to convince people to vote yes in the plebiscite.

"I think it's a very irresponsible way of trying to get people to vote yes," said Chu.

As for how further funding requests from Calgary would be received after protracted negotiations, Chu doesn't like the odds.

"If I were the different levels of government, I'd tell them to pound sand."

But Mayor Naheed Nenshi said there have been precedents at past Olympics in Canada where additional projects were built.

"He's correct. But I don't want people to pin their hopes on something that is not yet confirmed," said Nenshi. 

Even if the federal and provincial governments say they've offered Calgary plenty, the mayor said he's ready with his answers.

"I spend a lot of my time negotiating with the other orders of government for more funding and I have arguments to counter that."

Calgarians get to decide in the plebiscite whether that Olympic money could land here.

The province has clearly stated that if there isn't public support shown in the plebiscite, its $700-million contribution is off the table, regardless of voter turnout.