Good morning, it’s James Keller here.
The last time Calgary was considering bidding for the Winter Olympics, organizers initially suggested it could be done for about $200-million. When the city submitted its formal bid for the 1988 Games, that figure had climbed to more than $400-million as the chair of the bid committee declared: “We’re not going to overrun on costs.” And by the time the Olympic flame was extinguished at the closing ceremonies, the price tag had climbed to $829-million.
Calgary’s first Olympics didn’t leave behind a mountain of debt like other Games have, and organizers even declared the event turned a profit (not including the $400-million in public funding). But the ballooning 1988 budget is a reminder that even the most well-run Olympics can see costs shift wildly in the years following a bid − and usually only in one direction.
Three decades later, the city’s $5-billion bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics has been overshadowed by fears of similar increases and skepticism with organizers' claims that there is simply no way costs will increase. In a city whose economy is still struggling from years of low oil prices, those concerns have been a significant obstacle for Olympic supporters, who argue the Games are exactly the sort of pick-me-up that Calgary and Alberta need.
In fact, the chair of the Calgary 2026 bid corporation acknowledges that he was surprised with the level of negativity and opposition that have plagued the bid. In an interview with Justin Giovannetti, Calgary 2026 chair Scott Hutcheson seemed exasperated: “It’s a remarkable place we are in and to sit here with you, I just have to say, you have to ask us about the upside before the end of this. Because we can’t just answer every question for days and weeks about all the negativity.”
Mr. Hutcheson’s organization is hoping Calgarians are thinking about the upsides − economic activity, upgraded sports venues, the national pride that comes with holding the Olympics − when they vote in a plebiscite on Tuesday. While the results aren’t binding, a No vote would almost certainly kill the bid.
Plebiscites have become more common for bids in recent years, as the staggering costs of playing host to the Games and a growing distrust of the International Olympic Committee have made it more difficult to bring residents on side. For the 2026 Games alone, three other cities − Innsbruck, Austria; Davos, Switzerland; and Sion, Switzerland − walked away from potential bids after failed plebiscites. Almost every Olympic plebiscite has failed, and only Vancouver went on to play host to the Games after holding a successful vote. (Oslo’s plebiscite for the 2022 Olympics passed, but the city eventually scrapped the bid, anyway).
Even if the Yes side wins on Tuesday, the bid still won’t be a sure thing. A funding proposal between the city, province and Ottawa announced last week is still being negotiated, and questions remain about whether that money will be enough (and who would be on the hook if it’s not). There’s also a provincial election next year, and United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney, who is seeking to unseat the NDP government, has been skeptical about an Olympic bid.
We’ll know more in a few days: the results for the plebiscite are expected at about 10 p.m. Calgary time on Tuesday.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West
HOUSING: City councillors in Vancouver get down to their new jobs next week and immediately confront policy on the city’s housing crisis. Frances Bula notes that they’ll be asked to consider motions that threaten to rip apart the careful attempts by Mayor Kennedy Stewart to forge some consensus. While the mayor is a left-leaning independent, five of the 10 councillors represent the more right-leaning Non-Partisan Association, a party that has resisted Stewart’s efforts to move swiftly to introduce more density. Among the first motions: an effort to overturn the last council’s controversial decision to allow duplexes in every single-family neighbourhood.
In Richmond, city councillors for the past several years have been divided over whether and how to limit the size of houses on agricultural land. This week, the provincial government stepped in, tabling legislation that cracks down on mega-mansions, limiting new houses to about 5,400 square feet.
POLICING: Surrey’s new mayor moved immediately after his swearing in to start the process of building a new city police force to replace the RCMP, which has kept the peace in the municipality since the 1950s. A new Surrey force was a key promise of Doug McCallum’s return to the mayor’s chair, a job he had held for nine years until 2005.
LNG: British Columbia’s hopes for a booming LNG industry have always collided with its goals to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, but by the end of the year, the provincial NDP government will have to outline how it plans to square that circle. Its climate change plan is due in December and as Justine Hunter writes, it won’t have room for the kind of dreams the previous Liberal government pushed of several LNG facilities chugging out money for provincial coffers.
CANNABIS Anyone walking into a cannabis store in Quebec will be greeted by a worker who has had to spend more than 20 hours studying the variety of legal products and their possible effects as well as how to consume the drug responsibly. The course includes a mandatory final exam. But anyone wanting to purchase product from the two stores in B.C. – one government run, the other private – will be served by staff who are relying on knowledge they’ve sourced themselves, possibly from time spent in illegal dispensaries or from the companies licensed to sell cannabis: British Columbia has no required training program. Mike Hager examined the contrasts across the country on training so-called budtenders.
ALBERTA POLITICS: Alberta Premier Rachael Notley had to contend with the messy departure of one of her backbench MLAs. Robyn Luff was kicked out of caucus after she announced she would boycott the legislature to protest against what she said was heavy-handed control by senior officials in Ms. Notley’s office. Among her allegations, Ms. Luff said backbenchers were told not to go public with opposition members behaving badly toward women because “our party wasn’t completely without fault.” Ms. Notley said no such directive was ever issued and her office noted that two members of her NDP caucus had been accused of inappropriate behaviour outside the workplace since 2015.
GOOP: Arts reporter Marsha Lederman spent an indulgent day at the lifestyle conference hosted by actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s brand. For a $400 ticket, participants could schmooze with like-minded athleisure-wearing women after signing waivers that “stipulated we not interpret a psychic medium’s readings as serious life advice.” Goop, Marsha writes, is big business.
Geoff Plant on B.C.’s electoral reform referendum: Proportional representation “in B.C. will increase the likelihood that our governments will not be elected, but rather appointed. The result will not enhance democracy, but erode it.”
Alana Prochuk and Kasari Govender on the backlash to #MeToo: “The #MeToo movement isn’t about abandoning justice. It is about saying: Pay attention. We are here. It’s time to take sexual assault and harassment seriously. The legal system must be about more than just law: It must be about justice for all.”
Eric Adams and Ubaka Ogbogu on medically assisted dying: “Diversity … must also exist within the walls of religious institutions when those institutions provide services in the public interest to a diverse population.”
Tom Flanagan on the costs of reconciliation: “Canadians would not begrudge these mounting expenses if they actually achieved the objective of bringing the living standards of Indigenous people up to those of other Canadians, but that is unlikely to happen.”