Councillors question spending, transparency in aftermath of scrapped Calgary Olympic bid

Calgary city council has closed the door on its scrapped bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympic Games, but some councillors were left with lingering questions.

Council voted unanimously on Monday to return $645,168 in unspent money set aside for the bid exploration to the city's fiscal reserve fund and to receive the final report on the project.

The bid exploration cost the city nearly $7 million over three years, including $476,894 on advertising and $249,000 on excess costs above what the province earmarked to be spent on the plebiscite.

Coun. Druh Farrell suggested the total number might be a bit short — questioning why the city's cost didn't include all of the hours of city staff time that were used to create the documents associated with the bid.

She was told by city manager Glenda Cole that while it did include staff seconded to the project, it didn't include much of the time put in to create the total of 398 documents and reports related to the Games.

Of those documents, 39 were initially kept confidential and 27 of those will be released to the public online in the next few days.

Coun. Sean Chu and Coun. Jeromy Farkas said more transparency is needed.

"Now everything is done, I think we should release everything," said Chu.

Coun. Farkas said in a scrum following the meeting that Calgarians don't know what they're missing.

"When you look through the saga of the Olympic pursuit here in Calgary it's been mired by bumblings of the file, so many secret meetings, other issues, and I want to make sure we can finally set this issue to rest and give it as much answers as possible," he said.

But Cole said the other 12 contain either personnel or legal information and need to be kept private.

"There isn't very much that's still going to be confidential," she said.

The exploration was cancelled after Calgarians voted 56.4 per cent against it during a November 2018 plebiscite.

Anis Heydari/CBC

Erin Waite with No Calgary Olympics says there's more to look at than just the financial results, like how deadlines were met and how governance was handled.

She said she'd like more investigation into which organizations the city should partner with in future.

"It's the question of what weren't we doing when we were pursuing that bid and what wasn't being focused on. Things like that property tax crisis … they weren't looking at it because they were wooing the IOC," she said.

"I think there's lots to learn." 

'Calgarians made their decision'

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said there were some gains from the scrapped bid.

"Those 5,000 pages from the bid exploration committee really helped us understand in great detail what the level of infrastructure needed would be to support our legacy athletic facilities like Canada Olympic Park at WinSport and the Olympic Oval."

He said there were also major losses.

"We lost a bunch of stuff and I'm not really interested in relitigating it because Calgarians made their decision," the mayor said. 

"I think the biggest loss, though, is affordable housing. I'm going to advocate for that money … but nobody is talking about building 1,500, 2,000 units of affordable housing all at once and I don't see how you get that back. 

On June 24, the International Olympic Committee will announce whether Stockholm, Sweden, or Milan, Italy has been chosen as the 2026 host city.