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Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi during the Public Policy Testimonial Dinner in Toronto on April 20, 2017.Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the plebiscite to determine whether the city will proceed with a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics will be won by whichever side gets a simple majority, no matter how many people turn out to vote.

Mr. Nenshi says he would prefer a high turnout, but the vote will be decisive in any case.

“As long as you really feel that people with all different points of view have access to vote and have the ability to do that, it’s better than an opinion poll in terms of the number of people who come out," Mr. Nenshi said in an interview at The Globe and Mail’s British Columbia bureau during a visit to Vancouver.

“If it’s a 2-per-cent voter turnout, I’ll be very sad.” But he added that the level of engagement makes that unlikely.

A high-turnout vote could validate and energize the effort to put forward a competitive bid against rivals Stockholm and an Italian bid involving Cortina D’Ampezzo and Milan. Or it could provide cover for parties to withdraw from the effort. The International Olympic Committee is to select a winning bid in September, 2019.

Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics bid was put to a vote, leading to the highest plebiscite turnout in the city’s history. Of nearly 135,000 eligible residents who voted in February, 2003, 64 per cent were in favour. Calgary previously hosted the Games in 1988.

The question in Calgary’s Nov. 13 plebiscite is: Are you for or are you against Calgary hosting the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games?

Mr. Nenshi said 50-per-cent-plus-one would be enough to decide either way because there is no official threshold beyond that figure. “I think most of my colleagues on council would say a clear majority would rule,” he said.

Calgary City Councillor Druh Farrell, who is opposed to holding the Games, said she questioned whether Calgarians have enough critical information to vote on the bid, and said they have run out of time to engage on the issues.

“Plebiscites are imperfect tools because they boil everything down to a Yes or a No. The Olympic proposal is very complicated with many parts,” she said. Turnout is generally low in plebiscites, she said. “Decisions are made by those who show up."

The mayor said the city is encouraging voting through measures such as early balloting and voting on campuses.

He said it would be helpful for Ottawa to clarify how much money it is prepared to commit to the bid. Alberta’s government has promised $700-million. That leaves the city and Ottawa to pick up the remaining $2.3-billion in the draft plan.

“I want Calgarians to have all the facts in front of them long before they vote and I still don’t have that federal number. You couldn’t have a plebiscite today because there is nothing to vote on,” he said. “I am hoping that number comes out very quickly.”

He acknowledged Ottawa moves at its own pace, but he thinks the federal government doesn’t want Calgarians to vote without a number. He was wary about projecting how much money Ottawa needs to spend.

Still, he said there needs to be $3-billion in total public sector contributions. The city, he said, has little money but is committed to a $300-million field house project that would allow for both a soccer turf field, track and field and other non-winter sports and also act as a venue for winter sports central to the Olympics. He said the city is also committed to other infrastructure such as an LRT line that would serve the Olympics.

Mr. Nenshi said he’s an Olympics fan who has been to five of the Games as a tourist, but that he is prepared to abandon his support for the exercise if the numbers do not add up. “I am less pro-Olympics than I am pro-great deal for Calgary.”

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