Don’t toss these Calgary 2026 realities to the side
No matter how fun the Olympics may be, it’s important not to toss these realities to the side: Governments have no money, the Olympics will cost a whole lot and the Games should not be promoted as a way to grow the economy.
Let’s take a look at where we currently stand in terms of government finances.
Calgary’s city government is broke. Calgarians have already been warned about tax increases or service cuts and the city has projected billions of dollars in infrastructure priorities that remain unfunded.
After years of spending increases, the Alberta government’s debt is approaching $50 billion and, if things don’t change, Alberta will be face-to-face with a budget catastrophe. Things are no different at the federal level as the government continues to use borrowed funds to pay for services. The average Calgarian owes nearly $30,000 in provincial and federal government debt.
This brings us to our second Calgary 2026 reality: no matter how you slice it, Canadian taxpayers will have to pay for the bulk of Calgary’s Olympics.
Bearing in mind that the federal government is already paying for services with borrowed funds, it becomes clear that there isn’t a treasure chest with available funding. Policies are constantly subject to change, especially when deficits are large and debts are growing. If the Olympics do not come to Calgary, there is no guarantee that these specific funds will be taxed and spent elsewhere.
At the very least, a Calgary household should expect to pay $2,000 to host the Olympics. This is a best-case scenario as it assumes full federal commitment, and does not include cost overruns, interest payments or any cost not included within the hosting plan. This number has been verified by an independent economist. But even if you don’t want to believe the No side’s math, the Yes side estimated the cost would be $1,600-$1,800 per Calgary household.
With the Olympics, however, going over budget is the rule, not the exception. Since the 1960s, 19 Olympics have gone over budget, averaging over 156 per cent cost overruns.
If the Olympic bid sees overruns on the same level as the 1988 Calgary Games, a Calgary household should expect to pay close to $6,000 in taxes. With the average Winter Games overruns, that bill skyrockets to $11,000. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has published these calculations online for everyone to view and scrutinize.
These numbers may change depending on the final government funding breakdown.
According to economist Trevor Tombe, “To claim that GDP and employment will increase — at all, but especially by the magnitudes suggested in the third-party reports — is to go far beyond what the evidence suggests.”
Leaving economic modelling aside, there are reasons to be skeptical when hearing the Olympics will grow the economy.
Hosting the Olympics will increase taxes, neglect the deficits, rely on government transfers and put economic eggs in a 16-day basket. Does this sound like a good way to promote sustainable growth?
Furthermore, are international investors not investing in Calgary because they don’t know we exist? Or, is the investment community all too aware of Calgary and Canada’s policy issues and are happy to stay away?
Hosting the Olympics will not solve core issues such as tax competitiveness, the ever-growing cost to do business, our inability to get projects built, the nightmarish regulatory system or uncertainty over future tax hikes. In fact, the Olympics could make some issues worse.
Even with all of the fun, it’s important not to lose sight of current realities.
This column was published in the Calgary Herald on October 27, 2018.