Calgary Olympic Bid – A Fact Based Debate

I pride myself on being a pretty sensible guy. I think the best way to represent the residents of Ward 12 is by striving to be as informed as possible on the issues that come before Council. You can read some more details on my decision making process here. Being informed means understanding the facts surrounding a topic while having my finger on the pulse of how the residents of Ward 12 feel about the topic at hand.

During my re-election campaign last year, I had had a chance to speak with Ward 12 residents about the Olympics. I let residents know that I am approaching the Olympic issue the same way I have approached every issue during my time on Council. I reaffirmed that position in a blog I wrote in November: An Olympic-Sized Fork in the Road.

I know the Olympics is an issue that a lot of Calgarians have a strong opinion on and emotions can run high. But I don’t want this conversation to be about emotion; it has to be about facts. I’d like to outline where my head is at with regards to a prospective Olympic bid and shine some light on where I think we can go moving forward.

I have been supportive of the efforts to explore an Olympic bid thus far. My reason is pretty simple – I want Council to be presented with the best possible information before we make a decision. If there is an opportunity to make an investment that would have a positive economic return for Calgary, we should keep an open mind for that. Likewise, if going down this path would saddle Calgarians with increased debt and tax load – we need to be prepared to walk away. I cannot stress enough the importance of approaching this entire conversation factually. There are absolutely reasons to be concerned, but for me this entire conversation is about economics.

On Tuesday, Council made the decision to continue moving forward with exploring an Olympic bid. But that approval came with conditions. The bid team is to put all future work on hold pending funding commitments from the provincial and federal governments.  Should those other orders of government offer support, Council will have a decision to make in June on whether or not we put a bid together. Frankly, I did not believe that Tuesday was the appropriate time to pull the plug on the Olympic discussion. We have learned a lot over the last year, but there are still more questions that need to be answered. I am comfortable with this direction knowing that no further work will continue until the risk can be appropriately shared with other partners.

There was also a discussion on Wednesday on having an Olympic bid plebiscite. Council agreed to move that discussi

on to a meeting of the Priorities and Finance Committee on April 10th. At the April 10th meeting Administration will be presenting a comprehensive public engagement plan for the Olympic Bid, of which a plebiscite could be an option.

I am not opposed to plebiscites. However, I will highlight the limitations of a plebiscite. Plebiscites attempt to boil down complex issues into a simple “yes or no” question. If only life were that simple. The plebiscite question itself can be simple, but the public debate should dig deeply into the details – details that are not currently available. Arguments made for or against something need to be based on facts, not on unsubstantiated opinions
We also need to ask how representative a plebiscite is of the public wishes. What % of Calgarians need to vote in that plebiscite for it to truly be representative? Historically we have very low voter turnout in municipal politics. What happens if only 30% of Calgarians vote on a plebiscite. What of the other 70%? If we really want to know how the majority of Calgarians feel, we are probably going to have to dig a little deeper.
A plebiscite is just one of many public engagement tools that we could consider. That’s why I am supportive of having a broader conversation in a few weeks’ time. I think there are ways to get more detailed feedback from Calgarians. I look to some of the engagement models we used with the Green Line LRT as a great starting place for Olympic engagement. We need to be hosting town halls and education sessions, we need to have online surveys, polls and opportunities for broader feedback. If we all come from an informed position on this issue and be honest about the facts, we will reach the best possible outcome.

There is a lot that needs to go into a decision like hosting the Olympics. To date I have heard from a number of folks that are very vocally opposed to an Olympic bid. Sadly, a lot of the feedback I have received has focused on exaggerations and assumptions that are not substantiated by facts. Sadder still is that some members of Council have been disguising their own personal bias as proven facts during this process. I have seen comments in public suggesting that hosting the Olympics could bury Calgary in debt. Could that be true? Sure. But as it stands that isn’t a proven fact, and it shouldn’t be presented as such. If we are going to have a public conversation on this topic, I want it to be one where all of the facts are on the table and both sides have ample opportunity to argue their perspective.

I’m keeping an open mind and I will be basing my decision on the facts. I won’t base my vote on unverified assumptions on whether or not the Olympics will be a benefit or a detriment to our city. Once I have those facts and I am confident that Calgarians have been consulted with, I will be in the best possible position to make a decision. I welcome further feedback from Ward 12 residents and encourage everyone to play a constructive role in this debate as we move forward. This is a big deal for Calgary, and getting it right means understanding the wishes of Calgarians.