The issue of when Calgarians should be consulted over a potential Winter Olympics bid is getting some attention at City Hall.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he’s more convinced hosting the 2026 Games could be cost-effective, and he’s still contemplating how and when the public will have its say.
“I don’t know yet, I wish I had an answer to that question,” he said Tuesday. “I have often said that I’m not opposed to everything, up to and including a plebiscite if the timing makes sense.”
“But my key with engagement is always the same, which it has to be authentic, it has to really get to real people and not just the loudest voices.”
City council is expecting to hear from the province and feds within a month or two on whether they will contribute roughly $10 million each to put towards submitting an official bid for the 2026 Games.
The deadline for council to announce whether the City will submit a bid is this summer.
“There will be enough time absolutely to get input from the public, the question is to what extent, and that’s what I am still a bit concerned about,” he said.
The Calgary Bid Exploration Committee’s original figure last year to host the Games was estimated at $4.6 billion, with roughly half coming from taxpayers.
In November, council voted 10-4 to stay in the bidding process.
One of the members who voted against it, Jeromy Farkas, doesn’t want to wait any longer to go to the public.
He suggested after months of discussions and millions of dollars spent, now is the time to hear from Calgarians.
“What I’m hearing from my constituents is that hosting the Games at this time just doesn’t make sense for priorities,” he said, adding he’s exploring what kind of notice he could bring to council, including a potential plebiscite.
“My fear right now is we’re barrelling down towards a pre-determined outcome, the fix is in is what I’m hearing,” he said, referring to feedback from citizens.
Although a plebiscite could cost up to $1 million, Farkas said it would be worth it if the city didn’t end up bidding after conducting one.
Nenshi denied a decision on making the bid is a done deal, saying if that were the case, it would’ve happened long ago.
His suggestion on going to the public is when council can present specific costs and pose very particular questions.
“You don’t want to generally ask people do you like the Olympics,” he said. “On this issue, you want to get to people with specifics.”
But Farkas said it would be hard to trust those estimates.
“I would challenge that because it’s almost like the numbers don’t mean anything, 100 per cent of recent Games that have been hosted have gone over budget, so it’s almost like (estimates) don’t mean anything,” he said.
A survey last May from CBEC said about two-thirds of respondents would support a bid.
Nenshi recently returned from his trip to South Korea, where he met with IOC officials, as well as provincial and federal politicians.
He said last week after meeting with the IOC, that he believes they are committed to reform and making the Games more cost-effective.
The IOC has also committed to contributing hundreds of millions of dollars if Calgary were to host.