For and against: Calgary’s Winter Olympic plebiscite

Graham Cox and Natalia Cuevas-Huaico / November 13, 2018

Branded stickers that have been handed out by YES Calgary, an organization in favour of the 2026 Olympic bid, leading into the plebiscite.
(Jeff McIntosh/CP)

It is time for the citizens of Calgary to have their say in terms of the city’s bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic games.

November 13th marks the next step in the bidding process – a plebiscite – where Calgarians can cast their vote whether they are in favour of or against hosting the games.

The process up until this point has been thorough and the bid has been subject to several votes of approval from various organizations. Despite unconvincing results on a few occasions, the vote has moved forward and now it’s the public’s turn.

As they head to the polls, what are arguments that people are making for or against the bid?

FOR

One of the biggest cases that the “yes” side is making is in regards to the financial benefit they feel the city is set to gain. According to an organization called ‘YES Calgary,’ by hosting the games “…we unlock over $4 billion dollars of investment from our partners, between the federal, provincial, IOC, and sponsorship revenue invested into our community.”

On top of financial benefits, the proposed plan by the 2026 Bid Committee has outlined a variety of legacy projects that would improve existing facilities and bring additional recreational facilities that would be used beyond the Olympics.

Although new Facilities and financial gain may be the deciding factor for some, for others it might simply come down to nostalgia. Calgary was the host site for the 1988 Winter Olympics and that memory still pulls weight with those who experienced it. Bill Cooper, Chief Operating Partner of TTG Canada said:

“The memories of ’88 are still strong in Calgary. I think there is a lot of nervousness about where the Alberta economy should go next, but people feel they can go back to nostalgia to overcome those challenges that they feel they are in.”

AGAINST

On the other side of the coin, where some people see financial gains that come with the Olympics, many feel the games are a financial burden and are too expensive. The current proposal has a big portion of the cost to bring the games to Calgary being covered by taxpayers. Eugene Gritter, who has been vocal against the games said:

I don’t believe there is any lasting value created. I’d rather we find ways to get more ways to get competitive, rather than bloating up and creating an environment where taxes spiral even higher.

Others arguing against the cause believe that the proposals aren’t telling the whole story. An organization called No Calgary Olympics suggests that citizens are “not getting balanced, fulsome or credible information about the costs, risks and benefits of hosting the 2026 Olympics.”

On top of all this, others are pointing to things being different in this era of the Olympics and although 1988 was a success, people can’t expect the same 30 years later. One of these differences being suggested is incidents of corruption within the International Olympic Committee that is creating a landscape of mistrust.

The view of the opposition against the games isn’t just felt by some citizens of Calgary, but has been reflected in the views of other cities in recent years. Data shows that from bids for the 2022, 2024, and 2026 Olympic Games, seven cities have had plebiscites voting against hosting.

Ultimately, the vote from the citizens is non-binding and final say will be decided by City Council.

Find more information on the results of the November 13th plebiscite here.