I support the 2026 Calgary Olympic bid.
It’s not unqualified support, however. There are many tough questions and problems that need to be worked out (especially cost!) – both before and after winning the bid. But 64% of Calgarians, plus the independent Olympic Bid Exploration Committee, agree with me that the overall benefits of hosting the Olympics outweigh the drawbacks.
The most recent information from the Olympic Bid Exploration Committee estimates a price tag of about $4.6 billion, requiring $2.4 billion in debt financing. That’s a lot of money. On the other hand, it’s half of the current stage of the Greenline LRT and likely to have far greater positive effects for Calgarians. I believe we can get funds from the Federal and Provincial governments, as well as some of the nearby centres like Banff and Canmore that will directly benefit. Since the Calgary Olympics would bring an estimated $20 billion into the Canadian economy overall, I think we have a good case for asking the Federal Government to help us with some or all of a $2.4 billion shortfall.
Speaking of these numbers, I think we should do very careful accounting and come up with a precise estimate, then assume it will go over budget anyway. We need to be able to handle the real cost, not just the estimated cost.
I was heavily involved in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics while I was consulting to the Canadian Tourism Commission and have a pretty good idea of some of the obstacles we will be facing. I did almost all of their online marketing and wrote the original draft for the Government of Canada online emergency response protocol, basically the plan to get the official word out quickly and efficiently in the event of a disaster, terrorist incident, or even a Gold Medal victory! I also consulted to the Chinese government for the 2008 Olympics. I’m familiar with some of the shenanigans the IOC tries to pull on host countries and will help steer the city away from them.
It’s unreasonable to look to places like Russia and Brazil for what problems we may have here in Calgary for the Olympics. These are countries with different cultures, levels of corruption and available skill set than Canada and Calgary. Our best example to learn from is Vancouver, which hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics. We need to ask them what went right, what went wrong, and what they would have done differently in hindsight.
7 years later in Vancouver, projects like Olympic Village, Vancouver Convention Centre, Richmond Oval, Canada Line, Hillcrest Community Centre and the improved Sea-To-Sky Highway are in regular use. The Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) CEO John Furlong stated in 2014 that the Vancouver Olympics had broken even financially, and that all debts had been fully paid off.
If elected, I intend to leverage my experience, connections, and strong interest in the Olympic process to help make sure it’s a great success.
Pros and Cons of the Calgary 2026 Olympics
- Preparation for the Olympics is a lot of work, and can cause disruptions in traffic and services that can take years to complete.
- Since there was a recent Olympics in Canada in 2010, and we’ve already hosted an Olympics (in 1988), the Olympic committee will likely be slightly predisposed to granting it to a different country. This means we have to work harder than normal and create a very attractive bid. Current competition includes: Kazakhstan, USA (unlikely to succeed), Turkey, Austria, Japan, Switzerland, and Argentina. I think we can beat them, but we will have to bring our “A” game.
- Olympics are expensive. An Olympics where we need a very attractive bid is even more expensive. If we do it right, we can break even or even slightly profit. Historically, Winter Olympics tend to be far less expensive than Summer ones, and we will be able to upgrade some of our infrastructure rather than starting from nothing – saving money. But I’m mindful that although Vancouver 2010 broke even and Salt Lake City 2002 made money, the Montreal Olympics in 1976 lost billions. Calgary’s 1988 Olympics made a slight surplus directly ($36 million), and created $1.4 billion in economic benefits on an $829 million investment, so we have a history of doing things right. It’s a financial risk. Looking at it purely as a businessman, I believe it’s an acceptable risk for the return.
- Funding for major projects will become available earlier and with more Federal and Provincial assistance. Specific projects I intend to get funded include:
- Completion of the Greenline LRT by 2026, including a northern run, extending it to the Keystone Hills area (Livingston) which will be populated in 2026. As fellow Ward 3 residents, I intend to fight for them even though they are not there yet.
- A lateral run between the Calgary International Airport and the northern Greenline in order to accommodate the additional international tourism traffic towards downtown.
- A new Calgary Arena, flexible enough to handle many different types of events, accomplished without handouts to wealthy Flames owners.
- I’m also in favour of creating one or more permanent tourist attractions that will continue to draw visitors to our city long after the Olympics are over.
- In preparation for the number of tourists coming in, local hotels and venues will be upgraded, creating long term opportunities to host conventions and other events in the future.
- The money we are spending right now on the Greenline LRT and other transit projects will count towards showing the IOC that Calgary is an attractive venue and is committed to being able to manage the Olympics.
- Influx of a large number of tourist dollars from around the world, accelerating the economic recovery.
- Massive recognition worldwide will help us attract companies (and offices) to Calgary, helping diversify the economy.
- There is an intangible but very real boost to local pride, happiness and accomplishment that’s difficult to put into a spreadsheet but has far reaching positive effects on the economy and society. Happy, optimistic people are simply more productive and willing to take calculated risks than people who are devastated by high unemployment and reeling from damage to the petroleum industry.
After carefully considering the above, I’ve decided that the pros outweigh the cons and that an Olympic bid, even with the risks and amount of work involved, is in the best interests of both Calgary and Ward 3.
Disclaimer: this position may change if new information comes to light that dramatically changes the risk factors – I consider acting in the best interests of Ward 3 and the people of Calgary to take precedence over never changing my mind.