By all indications, it appeared the path to a potential 2026 Calgary Olympic bid was about to end.
But when it came down to stopping the process or continuing, those who were considered key votes in the discussion opted not to change course.
“It’s a valid question,” Ward 1 Cllr. Ward Sutherland said after voting along with eight of his colleagues in reaffirming support for a possible bid.
The vote came after he had said publicly that he would be voting the other way around.
“I got some additional financial information that I’m more confident in,” he said.
Sutherland and colleague Diane Colley-Urquhart were two of the eight councillors who voted yes to forming the Olympic bid corporation, which would be responsible for forming a bid book should Calgary eventually move forward on 2026.
Both councillors had signalled however that they were changing their minds, with Colley-Urquhart saying in recent weeks, it may be time to “put the brakes on” for various reasons, including the possible timeline for a plebiscite.
“The whole thing sounds crazy to me the way it’s unfolded,” she said earlier this month. “It’s almost untenable, it’s almost as if we’re being backed into a corner with our own money.”
Sutherland said when he heard that more financial details of a possible bid would be coming roughly six weeks from now at a $1 million cost, as opposed to the $30 million BidCo. budget, that was a major factor.
“If it’s not financially a smart thing to do, let’s end it in June, then we give the money back, it didn’t cost the $30 million,” he said. “If it makes sense, let’s go ahead with the plebiscite.”
The vote came on the heels of some heated debate at City Hall, with accusations of favouritism and bias against the mayor and city administration, a lack of skeptical analysis, fear of cost overruns and massive distrust in going into business with the International Olympic Committee.
But Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Monday’s meeting was a positive signal.
“I’m really happy that councillors, including the two you mentioned, but all of them really spent a ton of time over the weekend, considering their position, analyzing themselves, asking themselves questions,” he said. “It’s really easy to get caught on the daily irritations or the little things.
“I was really encouraging my council colleagues to think about the big picture, about what we’d be giving up if we stopped now, about what the opportunity cost was and that’s really what I heard in the debate today.”
On Friday, both the Calgary Olympic community and the Calgary Chamber of Commerce urged council to vote yes on continuing the process, fearing the potential end.
After the vote, summer and winter Olympian Seyi Smith admitted he was nervous going in.
“Each one (councillor) of them has their constituents they’re looking out for, and I think as long as we do it right, they’re all reasonable people and the right decision will be made,” he said.
“The hat we’re wearing is that of citizens,” he added. “We want to make our city the best possible city it can, so like I said, the onus is on us to do this right.”
The six councillors who voted no to the BidCo. were the same six who voted no on Monday, with Cllr. Jeromy Farkas reading out a number of IOC scandals as one of his reasons to vote no, as published by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
CTF Alberta Director Colin Craig said he’s not convinced Calgary’s approach to an ethically-driven bid is the point in dealing with the IOC.
“We could spend $30 million, have the best bid in the world and then lose out because our guys haven’t bribed people like other countries may have done,” he said, adding cost is the other factor.
“There’s no business case to continue proceeding with an Olympics,” Craig said, adding he likely won’t believe the June numbers and questioned the Chamber’s endorsement.
“I’m not sure whether or not they actually did a survey,” he said. “We have a lot of small businesses that donate to us, and they’re supporters, and they’re very concerned.”
Council also voted to form a new oversight subcommittee made up of four councillors and the mayor, which will be discussed next Monday, along with public engagement and plebiscite operations.