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Calgary 2026 Olympic bid: Debate over wages as plebiscite looms

Calgarians argue the economic benefit of hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics in lead-up to Nov. 4 plebiscite. 

With the municipal plebiscite only a month away, Calgarians continue to debate the benefits and risks of an Olympic bid.

In 1988, Calgary became the first Canadian city to host the Olympic Winter Games. Thirty years later, the municipal government is exploring the possibility of hosting the event again in 2026. 

The Draft Hosting Plan Concept developed for the bid includes proposed renovations to several existing sporting venues including McMahon Stadium, the Olympic Oval, and Scotiabank Saddledome, as well as the construction of new facilities, including a mid-sized arena and fieldhouse. The plan also provides for 2,600 new residence units to house athletes and international guests, which will be converted to affordable housing following the event.

The total cost of the plan is estimated to be $5.3 billion, of which $3 billion is to be allocated from public sources.

The budget for the city to explore the bid, which also includes the Paralympic Winter Games, is $30 million, of which $9.5 million will be funded by the City of Calgary, $10 million from the Government of Alberta, and $10.5 million from the federal government.

Nov. 13, Calgarians have the opportunity to vote in a non-binding plebiscite on whether he city should follow through with the bid.

With so much at stake, the decision to bid on the 2026 Olympics has Calgarians divided.

Jason Ribeiro, a graduate student at the University of Calgary, has focused his doctoral research on how public, private, and non-profit partners can work together to overcome challenges. 

Ribeiro said the Olympics will help Calgary continue to grow on the global front.

“The main premise of the bid is to adapt to the modern needs of cities,” said Ribeiro. 

This type of modernizing requires large spending on new venues, but Ribeiro argued the bid corporation’s plan has successfully reduced costs for Calgary. By reusing venues from the 1988 Games, the city will increase the venues’ lifespans and reduce the need for new infrastructure. 

Opponents of the bid argue that municipal funds should be used on other sectors, but the municipal government disagrees, he said.

“The city has already stated sport and recreation, a fieldhouse, and long-term affordable housing as priorities that they’re going to fund in the next budget.” 

Whether the city chooses to bid on the Olympics or not, taxpayers’ money will be used to fund the sports and recreation sector in the near future, he said.

Erin Waite, a representative from No YYC Olympics 2026, says an Olympic bid will put Calgary at long-term risk. With the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in control, Calgary will be responsible for all cost overruns as the host city, she affirmed.

“We simply believe that Calgary can do better than the IOC as a partner,” said Waite. 

Lack of transparency with costs, risks, and benefits of hosting the Winter Games supports the concern of many Calgarians, she said. 

“It’s an awful lot of money and risk to not have a very good reason for taking it on. 

“We’re very concerned for what other priorities will be pushed aside by the Olympics.” 

Waite said she fears the city will make cuts to basic services to fund the games. 

“It is a strain on our system and on taxpayers that we cannot afford.”

Despite their opposing positions on the topic, both Ribeiro and Waite said students need to vote in the upcoming plebiscite. 

“This is very much a plebiscite that will influence the decision to host the games,” said Waite. 

“Students have a great deal to lose,” she added. 

“You should see yourself and your future in this bid,” said Ribeiro. 

“Whether you’re at yes, whether you’re at no, or anywhere in between, make sure you’re exercising your right to vote on November 13.”

For more information on the Calgary’s Olympic bid, visit www.calgary2026.ca.

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