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Calgary mayor doesn't want to spend more than province on 2026 Games

The Canadian Press
Calgary mayor doesn't want to spend more than province on 2026 Games

CALGARY — The mayor of Calgary says the city shouldn’t contribute more than the Province of Alberta to host the 2026 Winter Games.

Alberta has committed $700 million if Calgary bids for and wins the right to host the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The federal government won’t provide more than $1.5 billion under a policy for hosting international sporting events, and has yet to state how much money it would put in.

“I think if you’re looking at the city putting in $800 million, more than the province, that is not a good deal,” Naheed Nenshi said.

By that rationale, the numbers don’t quite add up to the city, provincial and federal governments producing $3 billion in public investment the bid corporation Calgary 2026 asked for in the $5.2 billion total price tag.

There is a large moving part in Calgary’s sports landscape, however, that could inject wiggle room into the proposed 2026 budget.

Nenshi has questioned whether there is a need for a $100-million mid-size arena in Calgary 2026’s draft host plan if terms for a new NHL arena — which isn’t part of the host plan — are agreed upon.

Both Nenshi and Calgary 2026 board chair Scott Hutcheson say work is ongoing on finding cost savings.

“Every good idea from here to 2026 would be explored,” Hutcheson said.

“As with every other Olympics between the time of a bid and the time of putting on a Games, you want to make sure you’ve looked at every idea, challenged it, challenged the costs and try to do a better job over seven years, between a bid awarded and a bid execution.”

Calgary City Council could pull the plug on a bid at any time but is unlikely to do so before a Nov. 13 plebiscite asking Calgarians if they want to host the Winter Games or not.

The International Olympic Committee will accept 2026 bids Jan. 11. The election of the host city is in June.

When arena talks broke down between the city and the NHL’s Calgary Flames last year, Nenshi went public with the city’s proposal, which included a taxpayer contribution of $185 million to a $555-million arena.

City council voted last week to try to re-engage the Flames on arena talks.

How much money the federal government would contribute to Calgary hosting the Games is expected to be announced within the week, Nenshi told council Oct. 15.

“I made it clear to the federal government we have a plebiscite on Nov. 13th and people need the time to look at the numbers before they make their vote, as do I by the way,” the mayor said.

In a letter to Nenshi and federal Sport Minister Kirsty Duncan, Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci said $700 million is the absolute limit and “we will not be providing any form of guarantee for additional costs arising from any source.”

“The province’s number was well within the range that we had discussed,” the mayor said.

The federal government’s policy for hosting international sports events allows for funding up to 50 per cent of public sector investment — $1.5 billion in this case — and states “at no time will the Government of Canada undertake to guarantee deficit funding of a bidding or hosting project.”

Nenshi doesn’t want the city in a position of Games guarantor, but points to the $1.1 billion in contingency funds in Calgary 2026’s draft plan as insurance against deficits.

Venues from the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary such as the Olympic Oval, Canada Olympic Park at WinSport and the nordic centre in Canmore, Alta., are the foundation of Calgary’s potential bid.

“The real danger of cost over-runs comes in construction,” the mayor said. “We’re not building much.

“You won’t see giant cost over-runs like you’ve seen in other Olympics where they’re basically building everything from scratch.”

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