Canmore and Calgary are poised at a crossroads, about to make one of the biggest decisions elected officials in either community have had to make in a generation.
Hosting a $5.2 billion Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2026 is unlike anything proposed in either community since the decision to bid for the 1988 events.
In Canmore, big ticket items over the past 40 years have reached pricetags in the range of $38 million for Elevation Place and the proposed debris retention structure in Cougar Creek currently tops the list at $48 million.
But as the community heard recently, developing an athletes village is estimated at $116 million, with a $66 million debt needed to finance the project, probably putting the municipality over its legislated debt limit by 2024.
Canmore has never had to consider capital projects in that magnitude in its history and it is rightfully making some in the community uncomfortable with the implications.
Top of mind is the fact that projects like these start with estimated budgets and the closer to reality they become, the more they end up costing. Even renovation projects can start low and end up much higher due to factors beyond the control of well-laid plans. We only need look to the recent Canmore Rec Centre project to realize that fact.
But as a community, we also realize the benefit of the legacy of the 1988 Winter Olympics every day with the Canmore Nordic Centre. While as an Olympic venue it was utilized for a short period of time, it has continued for 30 years to benefit the community in terms of tourism and hosting all levels of sporting events from local clubs to world championships.
Without the 1988 Games, we wouldn’t have the distinguished careers of local athletes like Brian McKeever, Sara Renner, or Chandra and Rosanna Crawford. They are just a few of the lives enriched through sport in our town and region as a result.
But local athlete’s have also been negatively affected by the failure of the International Olympic Committee to address the issue of cheating at the highest level of sport. Canmore’s Beckie Scott recently quit her position as chair of the athlete committee at the World Anti-Doping Agency in protest after it accepted a recommendation to end the suspension of Russia from international competition for its state-sponsored doping activities.
Indeed, the reputation of sport at the Olympic level has been tarnished as a result of a culture of cheating that seems to be rewarded rather than punished at the international level.
Yet here we are, as Canmore and Calgary residents are being asked to consider the possibility of a 2026 Games. It may be a yes or no question on the ballot box for Calgarians in a plebiscite next month, and for Canmore council members, but it is not black or white.
Like many of life’s challenges, it is truly complex in nature and both sides put forward arguments worthy of consideration.
What is key now, however, is that voices on all sides are heard and respected at all levels. Next week’s public hearing for Canmore council is one for the history books and as engaged citizens that means speaking up in person, or writing a letter to be submitted to the public record.
Let’s make sure we can look back at this moment in time and say we made our decision because we listened to all points of view and took the time to understand the opportunity and risk. The Games only last a few weeks, the legacy of this decision will be for a lifetime.