The $2 million Calgary Winter Olympic bid question

Spending $2 million on a Winter Olympics plebiscite and finding a way to make the timing work would be one of the best decisions Calgary city council’s made in a while.

(Well, they did finally come up with a secondary suite solution, but I don’t want to open up that can of worms.)

Attempts to thwart this process based on cost and timing are red herrings in the debate over Calgary’s submission of a bid proposal for the 2026 Olympic Winter Games.

Here’s why: The list of recent projects funded with the city’s Fiscal Stability Reserve (FSR) are well documented: tax relief, snow clearing boost, walking back proposed transit cuts, waiving green cart fees, etc. In fact, it seems like any time money is needed to ensure services meet citizens’ expectations, councillors aren’t shy to dip in to the city’s rainy day fund for a cash injection. So, the money’s there in spades.

I’m no fan of blithely forking over taxpayers’ cash for every little project, this one has merits.

When there’s a very polarizing $5 billion (estimated, but cost overruns of 100 per cent or more are common) decision to be made, we should be taking the time and spending the money to make sure citizens, who could carry the financial burden of the Olympic Games for decades to come, have a definitive say.

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Let’s be honest, public engagement in its current form isn’t seen very favourably – whether it’s the city, the school boards, the health authority – because many people believe these institutions simply put up the facade of public engagement when a direction has already been determined. Window dressing.

To some, that’s what’s driving this desire to avoid a plebiscite. No one wants to risk Calgarians turning their nose up at a bid, thus stopping it in its cross-country ski tracks.

The danger for the city here is despite having put in millions towards a.) Doing a bid exploration, and b.) Furthering the process with more cash and a visit to the PyeongChang Winter Games earlier this year, the taxpaying citizens may just say no.

But, asking citizens for their input on an Olympic bid isn’t uncommon. Vancouver did it, albeit in a non-binding plebiscite. It would be a similar format if Calgary were to vote.

But both Munich, Germany and St. Moritz, Switzerland held referendums – both of which resulted in the bid process being rejected by citizens.

I think a similar result would be frustrating for the city and Olympic backers, but at least Calgarians will have had their say.

And since we’re OK with taking money from the FSR to pay for a host of other city services and projects, there’s no reason why the money couldn’t be taken from there to pay for this.

And really, the cost shouldn’t even be part of the equation when we’re talking about taking on a multi-billion dollar international event – $2 million is a pittance in the scheme of a mega-project like this. Some would say given the enormity of the Olympic costs these days, a plebiscite should have been built into the exploration cost.

The $2 million price tag even becomes less of an issue if the projections for potential financial success and economic benefit from a 2026 Calgary Winter Games come to fruition. As any successful entrepreneur will tell you, you need to spend money to make money. In this case, money spent to ensure the will of Calgarians is clear would be well worth it.

So, let’s spend the money and Calgarians will have their say.