With three days to go until the Calgary 2026 Olympic bid plebisicite, both sides of the debate are rallying their troops and making pitches to the undecided.
No Calgary Olympics hosted a rally at Olympic Plaza on Saturday. The group said grassroots support from the community is important because they don’t have the same level of funding the Yes side does.
Megan McCaffrey, executive director of Common Sense Calgary, said now isn’t the time to restrict the economy with increased taxes. Costs are underestimated, benefits are exaggerated and there is a lack of transparency, the group said.
“We just don’t have the information that we were promised in the time that we were promised from city council to make an informed decision in this vote and that means now is not the time for the Olympics to be brought to Calgary,” McCaffrey said.
Ward 11 Coun. Jeremy Farkas attended the No rally — ahead of his town hall — and is staying firm on his anti-Olympic stance.
“It really disturbs me that we’re waiting until the day after the plebiscite to release our bad-news budget: tax increases, fee hikes, service reductions,” he said. “I think we should come clean with Calgarians, share with them what we’re thinking.”
Farkas said the bid process has been driven by bureaucracy.
“Most of all, it seems like it’s keeping secrets rather than actually sharing what we know,” he said.
It’s disconcerting that council proposed to cut the security budget, Farkas said. He wants to be more forthcoming about proposed corner cutting.
“Regardless of your opinion about the Games, I think if you’re going to host the world, we need to ensure that Calgarians are safe and we need to ensure our visitors are safe.” Farkas said. “And I am very troubled with the degree that the security budget has been cut in order to do such a trimmed down version.”
Overall, Farkas said there is too much risk involved and his concerns lie in if voters have enough information.
“It’s not really about my own personal opinions,” he said. “It’s about treating Calgarians like adults. It’s giving them the information they need to be able to decide for themselves.”
‘As good as we think we are?’
The Olympic Oval hosted a free public skate supporting Yes Calgary 2026 on Saturday.
Renee Smith-Valade, with the Calgary 2026 Bid Corporation, said people have been asking her where to vote.
“Sounds like people are engaged, that they’ve taken the time to learn about the bid, that they’ve made up their minds and want to make sure they can cast their vote for — not only for the Games, but really, for the future of the city.”
Smith-Valade worked on both the 1988 and 2010 Olympic Games organizing committees. She called the 2026 bid an opportunity to continue the legacy for Olympic teams and the next generation of kids.
People shouldn’t compare security costs of the Vancouver Olympics or Toronto’s Pan Am Games to Calgary’s potential costs because it’s “disingenuous,” Smith-Valade said.
“Calgary’s very unique,” she said. “It doesn’t have water, it doesn’t have the mountains right in the city the way Vancouver did, and the Winter Games are even different from the summer Pan American Games that were recently held in Toronto.”
Smith-Valade said security experts have applied lessons learned in from this year’s PyeongChang Winter Games when making the budget.
“It was really recognized that there was better technology and better ways of doing security that can be adapted to reflect a Games that’s absolutely safe and secure but doesn’t have to cost as much,” she said.
It’s a big decision for sports in Canada, Smith-Valade said.
Seyi Smith, a former Olympian, is cautiously optimistic going into the plebiscite. He moved to Calgary in 2011 because it was a “beacon of hope,” and is now asking if citizens have faith in their city.
“I think what the vote should be about is: what do Calgarians see in themselves?” he said.
“This vote, I think, is: do we actually believe that we’re as good as we think we are?”
Smith hopes people can see beyond the short-term issue of city council and the secrecy of the process.
Olympic art payoffs
Joshua Dalledonne, with Arts Commons, said the $30 million in proposed funding from the Cultural Olympiad would change arts in Calgary, especially with national and international exposure.
“Constantly, artists are scrambling for any resources that they can get,” he said. “To have an influx of funding like this is transformational.”
“It’s exactly what Calgary needs right now.”
Dalledonne said Vancouver was able to leverage arts funding in significant ways.
“That Cultural Olympiad made it possible for collaborations from different provinces,” he said, mentioning that some colleagues were involved in a project that travelled from Edmonton to Vancouver.
“This not only pays artists and creates new work, but it creates collaborations and networks that people will have for the rest of their lives,” Dalledonne added. “It infuses and supports arts for a long, long time after the Cultural Olympiad.”
This process is making us question what the city is about, he said.
“Calgary boasts of its entrepreneurial attitude, its can-do attitude — this is an opportunity to make sure that actually happens.”
Dalledonne said we can’t do business as usual under these circumstance and, of course, there are risks involved.
“This is an amazing opportunity for us to change the narrative and arts and culture, I really believe, is going to be at the forefront of that. And to have an investment like this will set us up for success.”
There is no better time to host, Dalledonne said.
“I know that Calgary can welcome the world,” he said. “I think we need to get better at welcoming the world. We do a good job every summer. We prove it with our beautiful, bizarre western pageant every July and I think we know how to do this.”