Good morning everybody and thank you for coming out.
My name is Peter McCaffrey, and I’m the President of the Alberts Institute.
I have been working to hold City Hall accountable for over four years and let me tell you – I haven’t been surprised by a single thing I’ve seen during this campaign, because how City Hall has approached this Olympic bid is no different than how they approach everything.
There’s been so much controversy and so much scandal surrounding this bid that I could probably speak to you for an hour today but let me remind you of just a few of the most egregious things that have happened over the last few years.
This whole Olympics bid first got started way back in 2015, when rumours started spreading about a potential bid.
As reported by the CBC report, and I quote:
Calgary’s mayor has acknowledged for the first time that a local group is working on a bid for the 2026 Winter Games.
Two weeks ago, Naheed Nenshi laughed when asked about Calgary — which staged the Winter Games in 1988 — and whether the city would possibly be making another Olympic bid.
Nenshi revealed Tuesday he has met with the group and he is willing to help bring the Olympics back to Calgary.
From the middle of 2016 to the middle of 2017, the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee ‘explored’ whether Calgary should bid.
For those who don’t remember, the Bid Exploration Committee is the committee that said there was no way in hell they would let the Olympics go over budget, right before they themselves went over budget for their committee work and had to ask for more money from taxpayers to finish their job.
As part of their work, the Bid Exploration Committee commissioned two research reports about potential benefits to Calgary of hosting the Olympics, and surprise-surprise, the papers showed that hosting the Olympics would have a huge economic benefit to Calgary.
The papers were promptly released publicly and promoted heavily.
The Bid Exploration Committee also had some actual economists look over those two reports to check to see if they made any sense.
Those reviews of the reports weren’t released, never mind promoted.
Mayor Nenshi got to see them, but they weren’t even shown to the other councillor until it was revealed that the reports were very critical of a bid and councillors asked why they hadn’t been shown them.
It turns out that the economists reported that the original two reports were pretty much useless (or in the politer words of the economist – “go far beyond what the evidence suggests”).
Next, we had an Olympic Committee of Council set up.
That’s the one where a MAJORITY of their time was spent in secret meetings.
It’s also the one where the CHAIR of the committee no longer supports the bid.
It’s also the one that recommended to council that the bid be cancelled entirely, prompting BidCo to magically reduce the cost of the bid literally overnight, with a new, updated, cheaper budget released at 10pm the night before a meeting where a majority of council voted to cancel the bid, but the bid continued on a technicality.
Which brings us to this referendum campaign itself.
In recent weeks, almost the entirety of the Yes campaign’s justification for the bid has been focused on the supposed economic benefits to Calgary from all the “investment” into the City that would come from a successful bid.
Never mind that the original research reports were roundly criticized.
Never mind that the more recent claim of a 10:1 return is utter nonsense and counts costs as benefits, and benefits as benefits.
Never mind that if you count costs as a benefit, then EVERY project would meet ANY cost/benefit analysis.
Never mind that the independent cost/benefit analysis released this week shows that there’s no financial benefit to hosting the Olympics, but that if you measure other benefits, like being happier then maybe there’s a benefit, but of course, that’s subjective, so it depends.
(And can we take second to re-emphasize how ridiculous It is that we’re only getting this information after voting has started. It’s almost like it’s deliberate so that people like me, who actually go through the stuff that the city puts out won’t have the time to do so!)
Put all of that aside. Ignore it all. I want you to imagine with me for a minute that every single thing that Yes Calgary and BidCo have said is true.
Even if it is all true, the Olympic Bid and other so-called “investment” projects promoted by politicians all rest on an economic fallacy – the idea that government spending can “stimulate” the economy.
This fallacy was best encapsulated last month by Mary Moran, the head of BidCo, when she claimed that without the 1988 Olympics, Calgary would just be another Winnipeg – a claim as offensive to Calgary as it is to Winnipeg.
Calgary is great because of decades of pro-market provincial and municipal public policies that made Calgary an attractive prospect for businesses and people alike.
The lowest taxes in the country, spending restraint by government, and an entrepreneurial culture attracted a booming resource industry, many thriving support industries, and talented people who came from around the world to make a life here for themselves and their families.
If anything, the 1988 Olympics were a sign of the city’s success, not a cause – just as the 2026 Bid is a sign of the city’s recent downfall.
In recent years, both Calgary and Alberta have taken the opposite route of stifling regulations, ever-more wasteful spending on pet-projects and “investments” in the economy, and higher and higher taxes at both the city and provincial level to pay for all the waste.
Artificial “stimulus” spending doesn’t work, as all the money that governments “invest” in the economy has to be taxed out of the economy first – there is no magical “outside” of the economy from which we can all get rich and pay for an Olympics.
Their suggestion that we deserve to recoup the provincial and federal taxes we pay doesn’t stack up to even the barest of scrutiny either.
There is only one taxpayer, and this kind of thinking creates perverse incentives for every region to beg for more money from higher levels of government – not a particularly smart strategy for a rich province like Alberta that will end up paying for most of those other projects across Canada too.
Politicians make a lot of noise about every dollar that they spend on big flashy projects, while the costs of those projects are spread out across every single taxpayer.
Calgary typifies this problem over the last few years, as hundreds of tiny tax increases, each justified as just being only a few dollars extra a month here, or a small fee hike there, have added up to real harm to our city at a time when we could least afford it.
Each project costs just a small amount per person, but many small costs quickly add up for struggling families and hurting businesses.
Every dollar taken by the government is a dollar less spent at the store, a dollar less at a restaurant after work, or a dollar less at the movies – but none of those millions of tiny individual spending decisions makes the news.
Small sacrifices quickly add up to lost jobs, lost opportunities, and talent that decides to go elsewhere.
In the end, you either believe that governments can tax and spend our money smarter and more efficiently than we can, meaning the benefit from the spending outweighs the cost of the taxing.
Or, you think citizens are better at spending their own money, in which case the harm done by the extra taxes outweighs the benefits of the things on which the extra money gets spent.
Politicians don’t just need to prove that what they’re choosing to spend money on is a good thing; they need to prove that it is better than all those small things every individual would choose to spend their money on combined.
Is the Olympics a good thing for a city to hold, maybe yeah.
But is it the absolute best thing we can do with Calgarian’s money? No.
Calgary is great precisely because we do understand that cities and economies are built on all those little individual choices made by real people.
Let’s ditch this Olympics distraction and get back to that kind of local, people-focused, city-building.