Olympic engagement and plebiscite in principle approved by Calgary council

A delegation from the City of Calgary traveled to the Pyeongchang Olympics as the Canadian city still considers a bid for the 2026 Games.
A delegation from the City of Calgary traveled to the Pyeongchang Olympics as the Canadian city still considers a bid for the 2026 Games. Reid Fiest/Global News

Calgary’s city council has voted to approve a public engagement plan for the 2026 Olympic bid process and to start the work to hold a plebiscite on the issue.

Two weeks ago at a council committee, the engagement plan was roundly criticized for being seen as more of a campaign to sell Calgarians on the benefit of making an Olympic bid rather than providing information about the process.

READ MORE: Calgary council votes to continue 2026 Olympic bid process

The engagement plan has been tweaked to stress neutrality.

“I’m pleased with the improvements in the report and obviously a lot of the feedback has resonated and we’re getting back on track,” Councillor Diane Colley Urquhart said.

The Ward 13 councillor was so upset about what had been presented as part of the engagement that she talked about changing her support of the process.

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READ MORE: Here’s what Calgarians think about the costs of a 2026 Olympic bid: Ipsos poll

Also on Monday, city council endorsed in principle holding a plebiscite of voters.

The returning officer will come back to council with a report in June that would include details on the possible question that could be asked, the timing of holding a vote and who would pay the $1.96 million cost of a plebiscite.

LISTEN: Aurelio Perri has all the updates on Calgary Today

Mayor Naheed Nenshi supports a plebiscite but said the vote has to be done with a knowledgeable electorate.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done to see if there is a deal there, to figure out what that vision looks like and take that to the people,” he said.

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Nenshi is hopeful a plebiscite could still be held later this fall.  He does say if council decides to pull the plug on the Olympic process in June, there won’t be a need for a plebiscite.

READ MORE: Taxpayer organization calls for Calgary Olympic plebiscite as governments commit to bid corporation 

Councillor Druh Farrell was the only person on council to vote against a plebiscite.

“Council is elected to make big decisions,” she said. “Let’s have the most robust public engagement that we possibly can and then let’s make a decision.”

READ MORE: Athletes tell Calgary not to bail on 2026 Olympic bid

Ward 5 councillor George Chahal wondered since the vote would not be binding on council, that maybe a process could be set up where students, aged 14 and up could vote as well.

 “This is a huge opportunity for public engagement and this is a huge opportunity for our children to get involved in the process to discuss the facts, talk about the costs of our city, of our services and our infrastructure and the benefits,” he said.

The idea did not pass.

There is also a call to hold a public hearing on the Olympics issue at city council and the mayor doesn’t really support that.

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“To have that one specific thing at council strikes me as being just for show,” he said.

“You’re going to have people come in and scream and yell and council will just ignore them because there’s a plebiscite or there’s already been a plebiscite and you’re probably not going to vote against the plebiscite results.”

READ MORE: Calgary city council chooses to delay decision on Olympic bid plebiscite to April

The lengthy, hours-long debate even drew the ire of city manager Jeff Fielding. He was frustrated at the attempted downloading of more work on city administration.

“I’m putting my stake in the ground today. You’re setting up a structure, please stick with the structure.”

Fielding was referring to the committee being set up of council members that would oversee the Olympic process.