Our civic responsibility
Engaging the Olympic question with openness and curiosity.
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On Tuesday night, amid the online kerfuffle over the last-minute, newly-announced Olympics funding deal, my friend Peter Hemminger posted something to Twitter that gave me pause.
"I'm trying to break the habit of thinking that knowing something earlier is always better," he wrote. "If I have no way of influencing it, learning the whole story slightly later is healthier than concerning myself with every small, contradictory step along the way."
I felt a sting of shame.
Wasn't I supposed to be providing exactly this for people like Peter—slow journalism? I’d spent the day live-tweeting council’s Olympics committee meeting. And when the funding deal was announced on social media, I spent the next couple hours glued to Twitter, along with my colleagues, trying to make immediate sense of the numbers (wait, what, the security estimate has somehow gone DOWN?!?) and tweeting knee-jerk observations along the way.
Were we helping, or just adding confusion upon confusion?
The next day—arguably the biggest day at Calgary city hall in forever—I had the misfortune (I thought) of being away from city hall, on an airplane en route to NYC for a journalism workshop on widening the lens on complex stories. I was tempted to buy internet on the plane, then thought: why?
The full council video would go online later. I could watch it then.
So I stayed calmly oblivious. And sure enough, being away from what’s happening this second focused my mind. I knew council wouldn't vote it down. There was no way they would defy the powerful bid backers who showed up at city hall.
There would be a plebiscite, and my responsibility now was to engage, in good faith, with the question on the November 13 ballot rather than dwelling on the terrible process that has broken so much trust (I wrote about that here).
I pulled out my notebook and, with unusual swiftness, jotted down some plans for The Sprawl's plebiscite edition, including an upcoming Sprawlcast on the council debate for those who weren’t able to watch.
After landing in New York, I kept Twitter closed, opened Slack instead and asked The Sprawl's community manager, Ximena Gonzalez, for an update on what was happening at council.
"Gong show," she wrote.
Ah yes. Of course.
Over the next hour or two, Ximena kept me abreast of what was unfolding. When I finally got to my Airbnb and opened the council live-stream, still being careful to not open Twitter, I witnessed something rather astonishing: there was Councillor Evan Woolley, chair of council's Olympics committee, saying he didn't have confidence in BidCo's numbers.
Then something truly weird happened: Most councillors voted 8-7 in favour of halting work on the bid. But because it was a reconsideration of a previous council decision and didn’t have the necessary 10 votes, the bid work, including the plebiscite, goes on.
For the record: Councillors Jyoti Gondek, Ward Sutherland, Evan Woolley, Peter Demong, Jeromy Farkas, Sean Chu, Joe Magliocca and Druh Farrell voted to halt the bid work.
Councillors Shane Keating, George Chahal, Jeff Davison, Ray Jones, Gian-Carlo Carra, Diane Colley-Urquhart and Mayor Naheed Nenshi voted against it.
This is the ballot question on November 13: “Are you for or are you against Calgary hosting the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games?”
If you're looking for someone to explicitly tell you how to answer that question, you won't find it here.
This decision requires careful thought and deliberation. The Sprawl will be here to help you make that decision wisely, rather than making it for you.
This means taking seriously the various arguments for and against the Games, rather than dismissing them out of hand. It means challenging orthodoxies about both our city and the Olympics. And it means allowing complexity into the conversation, rather than taking the easy path of oversimplification.
The numbers are obviously important, but it’s not all about the numbers. Even University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe, who has found BidCo’s numbers severely lacking (his CBC piece today is a must-read), has said this shouldn’t be looked at solely as an economic question.
Pretty much everyone agrees that the timeline before us is not ideal. Crucial information has just arrived, and much is still missing, mere days from voting day.
But all Calgarians have an obligation to make the most of these days, engaging the question before us with humility, openness and curiosity—in addition to the healthy skepticism which is also, let's not forget, a civic responsibility.
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