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Ward 7 News: Blog: The Olympics want us to think big. I am asking you to think bigger.

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Ward 7 official website

On November 13, Calgarians will vote on whether or not to pursue an Olympic bid.
 
Last week, after 10 hours of debate and a last minute funding proposal, City Council voted eight to seven to end the bid process—two votes short of a required supermajority. Despite hours of questions, many members of Council were still unclear on the details of the proposed new deal. Cuts to security funding with unresolved overrun guarantees, reduced affordable housing commitments, a speculative insurance package, and a lack of clarity on the funding breakdown were all red flags for Council.

This leaves the bid in an untenable situation: It limps forward to the November 13 vote without majority Council support and, notably, without support of the Chair of the Olympic Assessment Committee, Councillor Evan Woolley. As Councillor Woolley stated: “We promised to give Calgarians all the information, and we haven’t been able to deliver on that promise. I don’t have confidence that the numbers are going to add up.”

The City has run out of time to review the details of the new proposed deal, and how it fits into the City’s overall finances, before the plebiscite vote. More importantly, we have run out of time to deliver on three basic commitments we made to Calgarians before the vote:

1. We promised to give Calgarians at least 30 days to understand the bid details prior to the vote through robust and neutral public engagement. However, engagement was delayed, condensed, and hampered by a lack of financial details. It is now too late to engage Calgarians on the new proposal.
2. We promised an independent cost/benefit analysis of the Games. Voting will be underway before this information becomes available.
3. We promised a full understanding of the accumulated debt forecast of all mega infrastructure projects, as well as their impacts to our credit rating, operating budget, and capital budget. This will also be released after voting has begun.

Calgary is experiencing extreme financial pressures. A 30 per cent office vacancy rate and plummeting Downtown property values are causing an unprecedented tax shift that is hurting the entire city. The City is also about to start discussions on its four-year budget process one day after the plebiscite. With revenues down, we are already facing cuts to quality-of-life essentials. Meanwhile, Olympic costs are not yet included in our operating or capital budgets.

We will soon embark on the first phase of the $4.65 billion Green Line, the largest and most complicated project in Calgary’s history. Borrowing for the Green Line has taken us to a higher than usual debt level and we have enough capacity to add only the most important projects. Assuming the City pays for the Games by taking on more debt, there will be resulting property tax increases for homeowners and businesses. The other option would be to further cut City priorities and services to make room for Olympic spending.

The Olympic bid process has distracted us from focusing on these critical financial issues. We need all of our ideas and energy to solve the complicated challenges facing our economy. Continued borrowing in this climate will not be our salvation.

People are looking to the Olympics to solve our problems and create a vision for the future. However, the Olympics are an international sporting event, not a long-term economic strategy. The Games have a track-record of cost overruns without exception since the 1960s, and, as University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe points out, the economic benefits of the Olympics are often grossly overstated. Those are some of the reasons why fewer and fewer global cities are bidding.

Economic development should create growth that is lasting, robust, and shared. While many see the Olympic Games as a way to recover from the recession, a mega-event eight years from now is not a silver bullet for all of our woes and ambitions.

The Olympics stand to divert our resources and funding from the thousands of everyday investments that provide high quality of life for Calgarians. The Economist has consistently ranked Calgary in the top five most liveable global cities, particularly because of that high quality of life. This is Calgary’s story and we need to build on it.

The challenges before us are serious, yet they are not insurmountable if we prioritize and focus. We need to work together to develop a bold, community-based, and innovative strategy for Calgary’s future that extends beyond one event. We must ask whether the Olympics fit into our vision rather than banking on the Olympics to define our vision.

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This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Ward Councillor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.
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