Former Calgary alderman a hard no on 2026 Olympic bid

With Japan officially dropping out of the race for the 2026 Winter Olympics and Calgary City Council's Priorities and Finance committee considering a potentially tough budget over the next four years, some are questioning whether the city can afford a bid for the games.

Among the opponents is former Calgary alderman, John Schmal. He wrote a scathing letter to the editor published in the Calgary Herald and chatted with The Homestretch Monday afternoon.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

David Goldman/Associated Press

Q: What's your argument against bringing the Olympic Games back to Calgary in 2026?

A: It's mainly economics.

To tell Calgarians we can come out of a recession and everything is going to be OK because we are going to have an Olympics and we need people to know where Calgary is, that is a false statement.

That's not where it is. We need a lot more than that.

Q: In your letter you reference former Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau, can you explain that reference please?

A: In 1970 before the Montreal Olympics, former mayor Drapeau said 'The Olympics can no more run a deficit than a man can have a baby.'

My answer was, he had a baby in the way of a $1.6-billion cost overrun that took Montrealers 30 years to repay.

Q: Calgary's bid is about refurbishing current facilities and adding a couple of pieces to that, what about that argument?

A: To me, it's just too many dreams, too much optimism.

To me the offset is risk. For instance, they will never know security costs until we get to 2026. That can change.

To use affordable housing as an argument, that we will have a 10-day party and after that we have all this affordable housing. That's ridiculous. That's just not being real.

It was very good in the '80s. We had a wonderful time and it worked, but to automatically say it's going to work this time is wrong.

Let's not be too optimistic and tell Calgarians because we are going to have an Olympics all of sudden our city is wonderful and things will get back to where they should be, because that's not going to happen.

Q: What do you see as the differences between 1988 and what's being proposed for 2026?

A: The times were totally different.

All governments, municipal, provincial and federal, are in such deep debt. And here we have these interest groups pushing and pushing with another Olympic application.

We are talking about billions of dollars. Let's not be that optimistic. If we can't afford it, if we can't have the venues in our city, to have skating or curling elsewhere, that's not what Calgarians want.

If you can't afford it, don't do it.

Q: Where is the 'Yes' campaign momentum coming from?

A: There are a lot of people who were a part of the Olympics, Olympians themselves, who obviously are going to be in favour. That's their job.

Calgary 2026 CEO Mary Moran is going to be very, very optimistic. Way too optimistic. And is pushing for an approval, and that's fine, but we must remain realistic.

Every government in Canada today is in deep financial trouble, deep debt. That includes the City of Calgary.

We can't even afford to provide LRT in north Calgary that was promised way back in the 1990s.

We have to be very careful not to put our kids and our grandkids in trouble, having to pay it back many years later.

Q: Vancouver was able to build a number of non-sports projects from hosting the Games. What if Calgary did the same?

A: We are in a different position here.

The debt issue is terrible. Have you ever heard of a deeper debt issue that all governments being in that position? Why would you force them into more debt?

The poor taxpayer will have to pay for it in the end. That's not being responsible. I am saying, if you can't afford it, stay out of it.

Q: 1988 put Calgary on the world map. Isn't that still a goal as we try to diversify our economy?

A: Calgary is still on the world map.

Trying to convince people in San Francisco, for instance, where Calgary is and what kind of city it is, I don't think you have spend a whole bunch of money doing that.

With files from The Homestretch