Mayor Threatens To Cancel Calgary 2026 Olympic Bid By Monday If No Satisfactory Federal Deal Reached

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has demanded an immediate funding deal from the Canadian government or he says he’ll call for the cancellation of the Calgary 2026 Winter Olympics bid.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right) meets with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi on December 21, 2016 (Photo: Twitter @JustinTrudeau)
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right) meets with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi on December 21, 2016 (Photo: Twitter @JustinTrudeau)

The Calgary Herald reported that on Friday Nenshi wrote to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explaining “If we cannot come to a mutually agreeable conclusion by Monday, I deeply regret that I will have no choice but to request that Calgary City Council cancel the plebiscite and thus terminate the bid; an event none of us want…”

The Mayor, along with the Calgary 2026 bid committee and provincial officials were caught by surprise Friday when the media leaked a report suggesting Ottawa’s federal cabinet had approved funding of up to CAD $1.75 billion (USD $1.34 billion), but only as much as the combined sum offered by the city and the Province of Alberta.  Earlier this month the province pledged up to $700 million, and on Friday a representative of the Premier said that number would remain firm.

Calgary, according to Nenshi’s letter obtained by the Calgary Herald, had been expecting to contribute $370 million.

The matching funds clause seems to be the key issue, even though the federal government has typically funded 50 percent of similar international events held in Canada including the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games.

That would leave Ottawa’s matching contribution at $1.07 billion and a total taxpayer spend from all three level of government at $2.14 billion, well short of the $3 billion public funding the Calgary 2026 budget requires.

“It is clear there has been a tremendous misunderstanding of the nature of the required funding amongst the three government partners and now we are in a position where we cannot show citizens how the required public contribution could be met,” Nenshi wrote in the letter that was coped to the Premier of Alberta Rachel Notley.

In the letter, Nenshi told Trudeau that from the start of the negotiations, it was discussed that a dollar matching plan would not be feasible – and would end the bid.  These conversations reportedly began among the three parties in PyeongChang at the 2018 Winter Olympics in February, and specific details were outlined in March.

The entire project said to cost about $5.2 billion would deliver two new sport venues including a community arena and a field house, along with new affordable housing and upgrades to several other facilities.

The proposed funding agreement is contingent on Calgary 2026 receiving more than 50 percent of the votes at a November 13 plebiscite.  The federal government would provide the International Olympic Committee any necessary guarantees.

The IOC will contribute USD $925 million (CAD $1.2 billion) towards the organizing committee budget that help offset project expenses.

Canada’s Federal Government Approves Increased Funding For Calgary 2026 Olympic Bid, But Conditions Could Limit Final Spend

Provincial officials Friday were reportedly outraged at the federal government’s new proposal, saying the 50-50 funding arrangement was not part of the plan and was a move to pressure Alberta to up its ante.

Nenshi has offered to discuss the situation with Trudeau or any federal negotiators in order to “salvage” the situation.

The Mayor has proposed other viable options to meet the federal government requirements, suggesting that city and provincial money being spent on other infrastructure such as a $1.5 billion light rail project that would service Olympic venues, could be labeled Olympic spending and be included in the dollar-matching calculation.

Or, he added in his letter, Ottawa could drop the matching-funds clause and work out difference details moving forward.

Some city councilors in Calgary agreed with Nenshi Saturday, suggesting Calgary drop the bid this week if federal partners don’t adjust their offer.  Calgarians are expected to digest the plan and cast their votes for or against the bid in two weeks.

“What I will say is we’re out of time, we need a decision on some final numbers,” Councillor Ward Sutherland told Postmedia. “It’s not fair to Calgarians and I expect it by Monday or Tuesday, and if that doesn’t happen I don’t think we should even go forward.”

If Nenshi follows through and Calgary leaves the race, only two of the seven original applicants will be left in the 2026 race.  But Stockholm in Sweden remains on shaky ground as it tries to sell the low-cost project to government officials in order to earn their support, and a joint Italian bid between Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo is without federal government funding and is still trying to organize its plans to catch up to rivals.

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.

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