Hello, it’s James Keller here in Calgary.
A week ago, headline writers and pundits were falling over each other to declare Calgary’s bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics dead. Alberta and the federal government had both come out with their funding numbers and it was obvious there wasn’t enough money to pay for the Olympic budget, which called for roughly $3-billion in public money. Alberta and Calgary pointed the blame at the federal government, even though its proposed contribution − $1.5-billion − was pretty much exactly what had been expected. And the city gave Ottawa an ultimatum: come up with a better deal or the whole thing is off.
With a city council vote on Wednesday serving as a deadline, all three levels of government announced a last-minute funding proposal designed to save the bid. It was complicated, and used what some called “creative accounting” to allow the city to claim hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions − and unlock matching funding from the federal government − without actually spending any additional money.
But it also shaved off nearly $300-million from the budget in areas including security and housing, and only increased concerns that the event could come with steep cost overruns. And all three levels of government insist they won’t be on the hook if the Games go over budget.
Justin Giovannetti, Allan Maki and I examined what happened to the bid, and what happens next. The funding proposal has set off more negotiations between the three governments as they iron out precisely how the Games would be funded. And there are some serious questions that need to be answered. Here’s just one: Calgary says it plans to find an insurance policy to cover cost overruns for a $20-million premium − would any insurer actually take on that risk?
And more immediately, Calgarians are set to vote in a plebiscite on Nov. 13. Some have likely already voted, since mail-in ballots have already been sent out. The rest have a little more than a week to make sense of what just happened, even though some city councillors acknowledge that they don’t entirely understand it.
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:
CANNABIS: You’d be forgiven for thinking marijuana has been legal in some parts of British Columbia for years, which makes it all the more confusing why the province has been so slow to launch its retail industry since the drug actually became legal last month. The province finally has its first private cannabis retail shop licensed. The shop, expected to open next week in Kimberley, was once an illegal dispensary. Mike Hager notes that it will be a common path in British Columbia, where illegal retailers will shed their black-market ties to enter the legitimate marketplace.
Cannabis stores in other parts of the west, though, are running out of product after two weeks in business. In tiny Martensville, Sask., the supply was gone the day after legalization. As David Ebner and Marcy Nicholson report, on the Alberta Cannabis website, the most common phrase is “out of stock.”
Students in Canada from some Asian countries have been warned that using legal cannabis in Canada could lead to penalties when they return home, freelancer Chengxu Zhu reports.
TRANS MOUNTAIN: The federal government announced that it would have new measures in place by the spring to protect southern resident killer whales living off the B.C. coast, including limiting vessel noise and efforts to rebuild stocks of Chinook salmon, the whales’ main food source. It’s the latest effort to address the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision to quash the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
In the meantime, Shawn McCarthy noted that Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. is suspending some oil sands production as heavy-crude prices in Western Canada sink below bargain-basement levels seen in the 2014-16 global slump.
Still, the opposition continues in British Columbia. Although the long-time stalwart critic of the Trans Mountain project, Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan, was defeated in last weekend’s municipal election, his replacement remains opposed. Mike Hurley, a former firefighter, says he’s worried about the safety of the oil-tank farm and the potential for a so-called “boil-over” fire.
HOUSING: Vancouver’s mayor-elect wants the development industry to know the city is open for business. The relationship between the city’s developers and the former administration of Gregor Robertson was viewed with suspicion by voters, who didn’t return a single member of Mr. Robertson’s party to city council after last month’s vote. But as Frances Bula reports, the new mayor is going to need developers to pay their fees in order to realize his ambitious city plan.
Still, residents struggling with the city’s high rents will be suffering for a while yet. Frances introduces readers to two renters who have been living in reasonably priced suites but are being harassed into getting out so a new landlord can renovate and hike the rents. They are finding there isn’t much out there to move into.
Earlier this year, the City of Vancouver announced a bold, new and aggressive step to clamping down on the owners of some of the city’s most derelict housing. After years of neglect and a pileup of bylaw infractions, the city said it would move to expropriate two single-room occupancy hotels owned by Vancouver’s Sahota family. But this week, Wendy Stueck and Mike Hager noted that the city has put that action on hold, an effort to come to a negotiated settlement.
TRANSIT: New mayors across much of the Lower Mainland around Vancouver have inevitably brought new policy ideas. Surrey mayor-elect Doug McCallum’s disruptive plan to scrap a light-rail project in an effort to build the more expensive SkyTrain service has irritated his neighbouring mayors, who all must co-operate on transit initiatives in the region. Ian Bailey spoke with New Westminster’s Jonathan Coté, who has suggested Surrey should pay back the $50-million already spent on the LRT. Mr. McCallum has flatly refused.
REFUGEES: Wendy Stueck takes a cooking class taught by Syrian refugee women. The women, torn from their country by the war and many displaced for years before arriving in Canada have used their skills to share their culture with Canadians and earn an income in the process.
Campbell Clark: “On Sunday night, Mr. Trudeau called a by-election in the Ontario riding of Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes. But he didn’t call by-elections in three other vacant ridings, including Burnaby South. That might sound like a small matter of process. Liberals will be hoping most people pay no mind, hit the snooze button and move on. But it really is a cynical political manoeuvre.”
Cathal Kelly: “While three levels of Canadian government were at each other’s throats over the proposed 2026 Calgary Winter Games last week, the International Olympic Committee popped over for a little pep talk. Instead of saying anything, the IOC made a great show of reaching into its pants pockets and pulled out the lining.”'
Globe editorial: “Calgary city council’s decision to go ahead with a non-binding plebiscite on whether or not to bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics is good news. How the council got there wasn’t pretty. It was an acrimonious and chaotic process. But that’s okay, because that’s what any city considering an Olympic bid should put itself through: a frank debate about the costs and benefits.”
Gary Mason: “In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been forced to learn a lot about what happens when a loved one becomes ill and is no longer able to care for himself. The situation ignites a series of discussions and group decisions, none of which is easy or without anxiety. And as our population ages, these are conversations that are going to be taking place on an ever-increasing basis.”