Speech To The No Calgary Olympics Rally

The costs are underestimated, the benefits are exaggerated, the goalposts keep moving every few days, and a lack of transparency means the public is kept in the dark.

While that could describe most Calgary City Council projects, this time we are talking about a luxury party that is the antithesis of a necessity.

I’ve spent the better part of this week thinking about what I was going to say in this speech, and months trying to figure out what I think about the Olympic bid overall.

I’ve been able to spend a lot of time researching every aspect of this proposal, an advantage I know many Calgarians haven’t had. Now as we rapidly approach voting day, here’s what I’ve worked out: the same people that are asking Calgarians to trust them to deliver a cost-constrained Olympics don’t trust Calgarians with the critical information we need to make an informed decision on November 13th.

We’ve seen council meeting in secret nearly every time the bid is being discussed.

We’ve had multiple leeks of critical information from concerned whistleblowers, followed every single time by a yes-spokesperson claiming, “the leek doesn’t show the full story” all while never actually providing said, “full story.”

We’ve seen the cost for bid items, like security, change without any plausible explanation other than it’s convenient for selling the yes-vote.

We’re facing a barrage of double-speak from politicians more concerned with securing their legacy than everyday Calgarians. In one breath we’re being told we need to tighten our belt, cut municipal services, raise taxes on struggling businesses, while in the next breath we can afford to host an event that habitually goes over the initial bid budget. And by habitually we are talking about in every single instance where there is enough data to study it.

BidCo has utterly failed to make a transparent and timely case for hosting the Olympics, just like they will fail at hosting an Olympics without cost overruns.

If we cannot trust the city to run a balance transparent plebiscite, how can we trust the city to run the Olympics?

There is no clear bid plan, there’s been almost limitless misinformation from the Yes campaign and the city – some of which is clearly intentional – and the numbers just don’t stack up.

First, City Hall promised Calgarians that we would get to see the full Olympic Bid plan 30 days before the public vote, to give us enough time to debate the pros and cons and make an informed decision.

They broke that promise.

Instead, the plans are changed almost every day, to whatever the Bid Committee thinks Council or Calgarians need to hear in order to vote yes.

Second, City Hall promised Calgarians an honest, fair, and impartial process.

They broke that promise.

Instead, the plans were drawn up in secret, behind closed doors, we only learnt key pieces of information thanks to leaks, and to ensure that the deck was fully stacked towards the Yes side, they were given millions of taxpayer dollars to fund their persuasion and get out the vote campaign while the no campaign is left depending on grassroots voluntary contributions.

Third, City Hall promised Calgarians “the most transparent process in Olympic history”.

They broke that promise.

Instead, the cost/benefit analysis calculations done for this bid have been ridiculous. The 10:1 return on investment figure promoted by BidCo counts every single expense of the Olympics as a benefit.

Hiring an out-of-province or country security firm, is a cost for the city not a benefit to the city, the cost of flying in out-of-province or country IOC officials, is a cost for the city not a benefit to the city, imported materials an equipment from outside the province or country is a cost for the city not a benefit to the city. The list goes on.

Our taxpayer dollars should not be going towards persuading Calgarians to buy into such shoddy numbers. 

But perhaps least transparent of all, the city has not encouraged meaningful debate about alternative uses for the money that it would like to allocate towards the Olympics. Without knowing the opportunity cost, how this money might better be used, it’s impossible to understand the true costs of hosting the Olympics.  

Now, all of this is not to say that hosting the Olympics is an inherently bad idea – perhaps if the finances stacked up and we’d had long enough to make sure the plan was solid, we could support the bid.

But this is not '88, when community groups led an organic grassroots effort.

This has been a top-down, politician-led, taxpayer-funded campaign to persuade the public right from the start.

Even the councillor who was in charge of the committee that co-ordinated the bid is now opposed, because he thinks Calgarians don’t have the information they need to make an informed decision.

For those reasons, we think the common-sense answer to this Olympic Bid is a firm No.