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#Calgary2026: 'Yes' and 'No' sides face off in CityNews debate

Last Updated Nov 7, 2018 at 8:00 pm MST

Summary

'Yes' says there will be a 'net positive' socially and economically if Calgary were to host an Olympics

'No' says there are better things Calgary can do with the money it'd be using for a Winter Games

CALGARY (CITYNEWS) – Less than a week to go until Calgarians vote in a non-binding plebiscite and some people are still unsure of which little box to check.

Both sides of the debate faced off on a special CityNews Facebook Live Wednesday morning, each trying to share their message and woo voters. During the hour-long debate, #YesCalgary2026‘s Jason Ribeiro and #NoCalgaryOlympicsErin Waite debated a range of topics, including questions CityNews viewers and followers put forward.

Here are the main points both sides touched on:

1. Should Calgary host another Winter Games?

Waite told host Mike Yawney Calgarians she’s heard from are still concerned about costs and potential overruns and who would be footing the bill.

“Our position is simply that this is not the right project for Calgary now–we think we can do better than working with the IOC,” she said. “We would rather see our energy and our investment and our initiative go into those other things.”

She added it’s imperative to look at the costs critically to make sure it all makes sense, since money coming from the city, province, and the federal government is all tax dollars.

“It really adds up to a significant burden…The cost of hosting the Olympics simply isn’t the right project now,” she said, adding she personally doesn’t see the IOC as a good partner and the games always end up being shaped for the IOC and “what they want, not what Calgary needs”.

She also said there’s a very high potential for cost overruns. She suggested putting money towards things Calgarians need and continuing to build on the old legacy of the 88 Games.

On the other side, Ribeiro said there are three main reasons to host a seconds games, the first being to remember Calgary is an Olympic city.

“We have a chance to renew that legacy and we have a chance to add the Paralympics to that equation,” he said. “The second is this will be an economic boom to our city–don’t take my word for it, take the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Calgary, and Calgary Economic Development. And third is I think we have a chance to make this an incredibly inclusive games, one that will not just live in the downtown and the clusters but all the way to the north, south, east, and west.”

He said while the ‘no’ side is continually finding problems and “poking holes in every element”, there have been no solutions brought forward.

“Let’s be clear: these are dollars that would not be coming to Calgary [otherwise],” he said, adding the current Olympic bid deal struck with the city, province, and feds give Calgarians a good path forward economically and socially.

WATCH: 2026 Olympic funding breakdown

“These facilities that we’re reusing are incredibly important to the fabric of this city. It’s not just for elite athletes. It’s for families, for children. We have a chance to extend that legacy for 30 to 40 years and I have yet to hear [from the ‘no’ side] either on the economics or the healthy and active living and social welfare and wellbeing or sport and recreation angles a credible path to build a better city.”

As far as who will be footing the bill for security goes, Ribeiro said the federal and provincial governments have agreed to cover first-response and emergency management and security costs. Waite suggests there’s still a risk for cost overruns related to security not at Olympic-specific venues.

2. Can Calgary update athletic venues within the budget but still put on a world-class Olympic event?

“Calgary taxpayers actually don’t pay for a number of these facilities; over 30 years 95 per cent of the costs for Olympic venues are borne by the federal government and the provincial government,” said Ribeiro. Waite circled back and said the venues included in the bid were dictated by the IOC, and are far from the new NHL arena that Calgarians want, or a new LRT line to the airport.

“It’s money misspent,” she said.

“[The notion that] Canada’s Olympic athletes all train here somehow because the IOC is making them do so I think is a little bit laughable,” Ribeiro said.

“We are a winter-sport city and powerhouse building on that legacy of 88.”

Ribeiro said since those games, Calgary has hosted over 220 world cups or championships in a variety of winter sports. “The notion that the IOC has directed that for 30 years I think is just not accurate,” he said, adding that the sports and facilities are well-used by Calgarians.

“It is something that young people in all corners of the city can aspire to. There are public offerings like public skates, et cetera, subsidized programming through Winsport for 20,000 children a year, these are important. If folks want to tell you that Calgary doesn’t benefit from these and somehow someone in Europe is I think is just not factually accurate. It would cost us far more without a bid to maintain and upgrade these facilities for 30-40 years than without. I think that’s the essential point.”

WATCH: Calgary 2026 Debate: Venues

Waite maintains the games are not accessible for all Calgarians and most people would be watching the games on TV anyway and not actually attending them.

“My day job is running an agency that serves families with disabilities… and none of them are accessing any those venues because they can’t afford them. It is not true that those venues are accessible to everybody and I would rather choose an investment path that serves more Calgarians like our brand new wonderful library.”

READ MORE: #NoCalgary2026 of the Olympic debate braves the cold to get the message out

Ribeiro countered any lack of accessibility is just another reason we should push forward with an Olympic bid.

“Every single one of those venues is going to be made accessible with universal design principles… I think that we are renewing those venues specifically to address that need–to make sure they’re more inclusive not just for people with disabilities but for seniors who we know are experiencing social isolation, that can get them out of the house,” adding he doesn’t agree with the idea that venues and events are not just for “elites.”

As for the affordability of actually attending and watching events, Ribeiro said Calgary will be setting ticket prices. “Over 70 per cent of them will be under $142, over 30 per cent of them will be under $42. That’s cheaper than the average Flames game. The fact that this is going to be an inclusive games that appeals to a broad swath of people is something that’s going to be unique to Calgary. It’s set on our terms, from our community to serve as many people as possible.”


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Waite shot back, saying hundreds of thousands of Calgarians will not benefit from hosting the games. “It’s just a fact,” she said. “Accessibility is not [just] a matter of physical accessibility it’s also cost. When you have even $20 entry fees or tickets, the families we support can’t afford that. You have to acknowledge that most Calgarians are not the ones that benefit, it truly is an elite event.”

Ribeiro said the economic, emotional, and social benefits still stand and the games would give people who need jobs.

WATCH: Calgary 2026 Debate: Economic benefits

3. Is there an economic benefit if Calgary and Calgarians were to host the Olympics?

“The hard facts say that the economic claims are overstated, that the jobs in a bid book tend to be overstated by ten times. And I get that, it’s a marketing document,” she said.

“Tourism in Vancouver in 2012 was less than in 2009 so they got a bump for a very short time. The benefits are overstated.”

Ribeiro said even in a modest estimate an Olympics would still be a “net positive” for the city. “I’ll remind everyone again: Chamber of Commerce of Calgary, Calgary Economic Development, Tourism Calgary, Canada West Foundation, Ernst and Young report, all came to the same conclusion… They all say it’s a net positive benefit for the economy. I think this is now the time we need to pursue that.”

Jason Ribeiro and Erin Waite faced off in a Yes vs. No debate over a potential 2026 Calgary Olympics. CityNews’ Mike Yawney hosted the Wednesday morning event. (Photo: Nick Blakney, CityNews)

Waite said those potential benefits are conditional.

“I can look at the hard facts of recent Olympics. We do know that in things like London, of the jobs created, half went to people who are not Londoners. If we look at what Calgary needs and what’s important for Calgary, we do have to look hard at those numbers and make sure that that kind of spend really maximizes the positive impact. I worry that because of all the things that added into the Olympics because it’s the IOC event and because it’s a very large pageant event… distracts from what Calgary needs,” she said.

“I think we have better ideas and better options than the Olympics. We’ve done that, we did a great job, good for us. Let’s take value in that and then let’s do what we need now as a city.”

Ribeiro said it goes beyond economic benefits. The Olympics can be a way to market Calgary as an amazing city to attract talent.

“We don’t need the Olympics to make us a great city–we already are! But frankly, the billion dollars of free advertising that comes with an Olympic campaign will actually give us a platform to tell that story to the world…We need the bullhorn to be able to do that…

“We have to look at the credibility behind the organizations that are supporting this that actually make a number of the economic decisions in this city, and the alignment with the 10-year strategy that city council passed unanimously. I think on every metric this dovetails with our goals.”

Waite said she’s not afraid of a big project and that’s not why she’s against the bid. She pointed to other cities that bailed on Olympic bids and still managed to grow and attract business without the games.

“Any kind of social or economic benefits are tacked on the side that you hope to get while you’re hosting a sporting event. I think Calgary, in this stage of its economic evolution, we need to be focused on the issues, some of our problems and really shape a clear vision going forward of what’s going to continue to strengthen and build our city. I just think tacking that goal on the side of an Olympics hosting is not going to get us there.

WATCH: Calgary 2026 Debate: Your Questions

4. Your burning question: Why are other communities (Canmore, Whistler) not paying to be included in a Calgary games?

“They are doing us a favour,” said Ribeiro, adding there has been a lot of misinformation spread. “We have ski jumps that would need to be torn down completely and rebuilt because they’re not the Olympic regulation height. We don’t use the towers anymore. We don’t need two Olympic regulation ski jumps next door to each other in Western Canada.”

Ski jumping and Nordic combined events would be held in Whistler should Calgary win the 2026 Olympics. All the rest, according to Ribeiro, would be held within and benefiting Calgary and the Calgary region.

READ MORE: Canmore moves ahead with Olympic process, but with conditions

Waite said it’s important to note that if you’re giving up two events to a B.C. venue, that region would reap the economic benefits; Ribeiro said what Calgary would lose in money by giving to events in Whistler would be marginal.

“I am very confident that these are going to be set on our terms with our facility and frankly our intellectual capital,” he said, suggesting that other cities who have dropped their bids have done so because they aren’t Calgary.

“We are probably the best winter-sport city, potentially on the planet.”

Waite said all of Ribeiro’s points were perfect–for an IOC pitch, not necessarily for Calgarians. “There is a different path we could be on, it’s based on where we are currently economically, what we need to do economically. There is a lot more we can invest in like the new economy kinds of companies and the IT kind of world that we need to move into and that will help work on the downtown office vacancy and none of that will happen by focusing on the Olympics.”

Waite called a potential games an event, to which Ribeiro didn’t disagree, but he said it’s also an injection and a catalyst for further growth.

Advance polling stations close Wednesday night at 7 p.m. Calgarians who still need to vote will cast their ballots on Nov. 13.

Click here to find out where you can vote.