Calgary’s bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics could end this week after a council committee votes on whether to walk away from the effort amid a deepening dispute over who would pay for the Games.
On the weekend, Calgary’s mayor threatened to cancel the Olympic bid, and negotiators from all three levels of government scrambled to find enough money to cover the expected $3-billion public cost of the Games.
Councillors and supporters of the bid say the weekend’s chaos left them frustrated with the pace of negotiations and the limited information made public. The first mail-in ballots have already been cast for a Nov. 13 plebiscite on whether to continue the bid.
Joe Magliocca, a member of the council’s Olympic committee, said he will put forward a motion at a meeting on Tuesday morning to withdraw the city from negotiations and cancel the plebiscite. “The bid is over. Kill it. It’s done,” he said in an interview.
“This is not the right time for Calgary to be hosting the Olympics in 2026. We should be looking at 2030, when we’re open to business. Right now we’re struggling,” he said, adding the full city council could vote on the motion on Wednesday.
Mr. Magliocca is one of six councillors on the committee, which also includes Mayor Naheed Nenshi. As he gathered signatures from fellow councillors on Monday to support his motion, Mr. Magliocca admitted it could be a fight. “The mayor is pretty determined on getting these Olympics, probably for his legacy. He should concentrate more on running the city than a legacy through the Olympics,” he said.
The mayor’s office said Mr. Nenshi was not available to comment.
“I can see the writing on the wall. … It’s bad writing,” said Ray Jones, another councilor on the committee. He questioned whether the public still has confidence in the bid. “Well, there’s always 2030.”
Councillor Druh Farrell, who sits on the Olympic committee, said council failed in its aim to give Calgarians a clear picture of the financial situation for the Games at least a month before the plebiscite.
“We keep making critical mistakes, and it’s continuing,” she said. “The starting point for these negotiations should have been knowing which of the three parties is in and for how much. We’re still negotiating and the voting has started. I don’t know how we can move forward.”
Emma May, a realtor who is part of the campaign advocating for a yes vote in the plebiscite, said she is frustrated by the state of talks. “I thought a deal was in existence and the nuances were being finalized. I was surprised this weekend that it hadn’t been locked down yet… we set a line in the sand for the plebiscite. You would have thought this would have proceeded much more smoothly.”
Alberta’s Finance Minister warned that the city might not have enough money to hold the Games after federal officials announced on Friday that Ottawa is willing to pay half the bill. Joe Ceci told reporters on Monday that the Olympic bid requires Ottawa to put forward hundreds of millions more and drop any expectation that Calgary and Alberta will match federal funding.
“All three parties remain in conversation and we’d all like to see this bid go ahead to a plebiscite,” he said at the provincial legislature in Edmonton. Mr. Ceci added that Alberta could not spend more than the $700-million already committed.
A decade-old policy caps Ottawa’s contribution to large sporting events at half the public cost. Mr. Ceci has said he expects the federal government to exceed that cap.
Councilor Ward Sutherland blamed the city’s delay getting a committee together for some of the breakdown in recent days. “What I will say – and this will get me in trouble with the mayor – that a year and a half ago if we had formed the [Olympic assessment] committee that we have now, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”