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British Columbia Former B.C. premier Campbell throws support behind Calgary Olympic bid

Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell celebrates the one-year count down to the 2010 Olympic Games during a business luncheon in Vancouver, Feb. 11, 2009.

Jeff Vinnick

A Calgary bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics would not be a risky move and would allow the city to receive billions from the rest of Canada to upgrade facilities, according to Gordon Campbell, who was B.C. premier during the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Speaking to a downtown business crowd six weeks before Calgarians vote in a plebiscite about whether to bid for the Olympics, Mr. Campbell delivered a sales pitch about why a city still shaking off the gloom of one of the worst economic recessions in Alberta’s history should play host to the world.

“When you start bidding on the Olympics, you’re going to hear lots of negatives. You’re going to hear people telling you that it’s high risk. I’m here to tell you that it’s not very high risk any more,” said Mr. Campbell, who was B.C. premier from 2001 to 2011. “I’m an unabashed supporter of the Olympics.”

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Since the Vancouver Olympics, the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, went massively over budget and were one of the most expensive ever, estimated to have cost more than US$51-billion. The 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, also went over the bid’s budget, first set as low as US$3.5-billion, and cost an estimated US$12.9-billion.

As campaign teams in favour of and against a possible Calgary bid mobilize before the plebiscite on Nov. 13, an Olympic plan currently expected to cost $5.2-billion faces an uphill battle. Ottawa has not said how much it would be willing to allocate and the province of Alberta has yet to commit any funding. The provincial government is facing an $8.8-billion deficit this year and a growing debt, with no plan to return to a surplus before sometime next decade.

However, Mr. Campbell said he expects the federal and provincial governments will come forward if Calgary’s bid is accepted by plebiscite voters and the International Olympic Committee. Along with boosting tourism and allowing Alberta to rebrand itself internationally, he said it will give the city a lift after years of economic malaise.

“You’ve had some tough times where the world sets an oil price that you might not like. And you’ve got to get through that … [the Olympics] will do an awful lot to lift the community up,” he said.

Mr. Campbell also said funding from Ottawa would help Calgary pay for upgrading winter facilities, many of which date from the 1988 Olympics.

“You have facilities that need to be upgraded, so this is an opportunity to upgrade, frankly – and people should remember this – with other people’s money,” he said. “It’s all very well to say that … we’ll get that anyways. You won’t get that anyways, you don’t get the upgrading money if you don’t have the Olympics.”

The price for the Vancouver Games ran to more than $7-billion and eventually required $165-million in additional funding from the province to cover a ballooning security budget. While Mr. Campbell said during a question-and-answer session after his speech that he did not “recall there being any cost overruns,” he said that the price was worth it. He also expected Calgary’s security bill would be cheaper because the city does not sit beside an ocean.

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The former premier told the chamber of commerce audience that corporate Canada would be expected to contribute funding to the Games.

The Calgary chamber has not taken an official position yet on the bid, president Sandip Lalli said. She said the chamber is also receptive to hosting a speaker opposed to the bid.

While Calgary’s city council has said it reserves the right to cancel the bid, the city is expected to wait until after the non-binding plebiscite to decide what to do.

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