With the municipal government on the hook for the cost of a plebiscite on a 2026 Olympic bid – even though it’s a provincial condition – it’s still unclear where the cash for the vote will come from.
The cost of the plebiscite is estimated to be $2 million and Chief Returning Officer Laura Kennedy, who would oversee a vote, will be giving a presentation to the committee on Tuesday on public engagement options.
“I don’t know where the money comes from,” she said. “It’s not up to me.”
“The funding comes to me through the city.”
On Thursday, news came down around at 3:30 p.m. mountain time before the long weekend that the provincial and federal governments would fund its portions of the BidCo., which is the body responsible for developing a bid book for a potential bid.
But the provincial funding is contingent on the city holding a plebiscite and Ward 12 councillor Shane Keating said he would prefer that the $2 million come from the $30 million BidCo. budget.
“Because we still have $2.5 million (earmarked) to put into it, to reach our third,” Keating said. “I would hope that the $2.5 million extra that we’re putting in now would cover the plebiscite and is part of the public engagement process.”
But Kennedy said she wouldn’t suggest it come from the $30 million budget and in that case, Keating has a Plan B.
“My guess would be the municipal reserve funds because I don’t think anybody would have $2 million in their budget just to find it somewhere,” he said.
But there’s been some momentum to end the process altogether.
Council recently voted 8-6 to form the BidCo., and on Tuesday Ward 13 Councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart (one of the eight to vote yes) said she was reconsidering her support for a potential bid.
“The whole thing sounds crazy to me the way it’s unfolded,” she said. “It’s almost untenable, it’s almost as if we’re being backed into a corner with our own money.”
Ward 1 Councillor Ward Sutherland is also questioning whether going forward is the right thing to do, but for different reasons.
He points to the recent provincial budget and the move to eventually reduce Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding for Calgary.
“Which is going to give us a shortfall of $381 million,” he said. “This really weighs on me heavily.”
“In my perspective financially, I think it really kind of stretches the opportunity to do the Olympics, so I’m more apt to be able to change my mind now.”
Theoretically, the next off-ramp for council would be to vote no to a plebiscite, because it would stop the provincial funding for the BidCo., and essentially kill the path to a bid.
“We could make the decision on Tuesday and reconfirm it at council,” Sutherland said.
But even with his concerns about the MSI funding, Sutherland said we still don’t know the final numbers around cost, which the city is expected to receive in June, two months before when the plebiscite would be.
“We’re waiting for commitments from all the different stakeholders on the complete dollar values and that will decide whether or not it is actually a financially prudent thing to go ahead or not,” he said. “Right now, we can’t say that it is and we can’t say that it isn’t.”