Building the Economic Case to Host the 2026 Olympics

Originally posted: March 21, 2018

For too long this debate has been about the negatives of the Olympics. I understand why – the IOC’s reputation is far from crystal clear and cost overruns have been common practice in many of the previous Games (Sochi and PyeongChang for example). There is a public perception that hosting the Olympics could create mountains of debt for a host city and country – but that perception has many variables that should be considered.

When people ask me why I have continued to further explore the issue, the answer is because there is an evolving economic case for the Games that we are ignoring.

Let’s talk about the facts:

First and foremost – I will not allow the debate to stop because of a few of us are unable to consider the full extent of the benefits and risks. Period, full stop.

In a study that was conducted in 2017 by Deloitte, they looked into the potential economic benefits of hosting the 2026 Games in Calgary. The following is a list of the potential benefits that were concluded:

The National Impact: according to direct and indirect impacts, it is estimated that the Games will provide nearly $2.7 billion dollars to Canada’s GDP, of which $1.9 billion will be in contribution to labour income.

The Provincial Impact: A $2.2-billion-dollar boom to Alberta’s GDP – with approximately $1.6 billion will be in contribution to labour income.

The Greater Calgary Area Impact: The Games will contribute approximately $853 million to the GDP of the Greater Calgary Area, with $631 million in contribution to labour income. 

Given this potential impact to our City, and at a time when job creation and the economic downturn will not change without a “made in Calgary solution” – I am obligated to pursue more information. As I have said many times, our Province, nor our Federal government are going to help bail Calgary out – they have made this very clear with their respective lack of action on pipelines. Too bad we don’t manufacture aircraft or automobiles here.

Now let’s talk about more facts:

It was made very clear to Council that the necessary upkeep of existing facilitates from the 1988 Games will cost the City well in excess of $350 million. That’s money our City must spend anyway, regardless of the Games or not. The Calgary Bid Exploration Committee (CBEC) has already made it clear that existing facilities can and will be used to facilitate the games.

The economic impact of the 1988 Games is still being felt today. Winsport (a Nationally recognized facility located right in Ward 6) contributes roughly $120 million to our economy annually. Shutting down Winsport would be a massive detriment to our City both economically and socially.

A plebiscite would cost up to $2 million dollars. A decision on that has been moved to April in order to first fully understand what enhanced public engagement the City would conduct.

Public Engagement around the Olympics has been ongoing since 2016, and will ramp up and continue for many months to come. A full public engagement plan is coming to the Priorities and Finance committee in early April and I look forward to your feedback.

Previous studies suggest that a full two-thirds of Calgarians were in support of the Games – the coming public engagement will encourage everyone to speak up on this topic.

Which brings us to what was voted on yesterday:

The 2026 Olympic project is dead without federal and provincial support. I need to emphasize this – if the other orders of Government do not have cash-in-hand, the process is done.

Yesterday’s vote was not about whether or not continue the work of the bid committee. Work does not continue until we have a financial commitment (money in the bank) from the two other orders of government.

The tremendous work done so far by CBEC and Administration to this point is absolutely transferable to other major projects. That was made clear at yesterday’s Council meeting. Given the work on this file thus far, it is now possible for Calgary to compete for other major winter sport games (X-games, Commonwealth, to name a few).

I feel the need to reiterate – doing things the old way and not investing in our City will not bring us back to the glory days of Calgary. We cannot sit around and wait for the price of oil to go up as that does not fix the differential issue we have, as multiple levels of government in our Country have continued to put up road blocks in getting our world-class energy to new markets.

Simply put, we must have a serious conversation about reinvesting and revitalizing our City if we are going to survive without massive increases to property taxes.

Some of you have questioned how a fiscal conservative could even entertain the idea of an Olympic bid. My answer to you is: if there is a business case to be made, a real fiscal conservative would look into it further. That’s what I’ve done so far. We’re talking about billions of dollars in potential benefit for our City, Province, and Country. Yes, there is risk. Yes, there is reward. Let’s make an educated decision together.

Best,

Councillor Jeff Davison