The federal cabinet has approved spending $1.5-billion on the Calgary Winter Olympics if the city wins the bid to host the 2026 Games, but only if the Alberta government and the city come up with matching levels of funding. It’s a formula that could leave the bid short of the $3-billion of public funding required to stage the event.
Officials with the City of Calgary say they were caught off guard by Friday evening’s announcement about the federal funding, which would increase to $1.75-billion by 2026 to adjust for inflation.
Ottawa’s contribution would depend on the successful result of a Nov. 13 plebiscite and a matching level of provincial and municipal investment combined.
“In compliance with the federal hosting policy, the government of Canada will match the combined provincial and municipal investments, up to $1.75-billion in 2026 dollars, to support the core costs of the event, if the Calgary 2026 bid is successful,” said a statement from Nyree St-Denis, a spokeswoman for the federal minister of science and sport.
Under a decade-old policy, which covered both the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and Toronto’s 2015 Pan American Games, the federal government only covers up to half the cost of putting on a large sporting event.
A draft plan for the 2026 games has estimated the cost at $5.2-billion, with the three levels of government together required to contribute $3-billion.
The Alberta government has previously pledged $700-million if the city hosts the games. Finance Minister Joe Ceci has said the provincial government can’t contribute more as Alberta claws itself out of a deep budget deficit and continues to suffer from a weak energy market in the province.
Calgary has yet to announce how much it would spend on the proposed games.
The federal contribution announced Friday would leave an $800-million hole that the city would be left to fill. However, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has previously said the city would not approve a municipal amount larger than the province’s contribution.
“We were surprised to see this number reported for a proposed federal contribution to a potential Calgary 2026 Olympics as negotiations are still underway,” Mr. Nenshi said in a statement from his office on Friday evening.
Calgary officials added that the mayor was not available to comment over the weekend.
In just over two weeks, Calgarians will vote on whether they want to pursue a bid to bring back the Games, which the city previously hosted in 1988.
The campaign between sides in favour and opposed to the bid has been divisive and beset by a lack of information as all three levels of government have yet to release a full plan to pay for the event.
Speaking in Calgary earlier this week, the International Olympic Committee’s executive director said that the sporting body could not contribute any more money to the 2026 games, responding to a suggestion from Premier Rachel Notley that the IOC should cover any funding shortfalls.
The body has promised $1.2-billion in cash and services to the city hosting the 2026 Olympics.
“This is what we can commit at this point in time, which is a substantial contribution, if you compare it to the local authorities and their commitment at this stage,” Christophe Dubi said on Wednesday at Canada Olympic Park, where many of the facilities used in the 1988 games are located.