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'The province is broke:' Alberta Opposition leader undecided on Olympic bid

Jason Kenney speaks to the media at his first convention as leader of the United Conservative Party in Red Deer, Alta., on May 6, 2018. Jason Kenney, who could be elected premier in next year's Alberta provincial election, told the Calgary Chamber of Commerce he wants to know the real cost of hosting the event to taxpayers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
October 09, 2018 - 3:16 PM

CALGARY - The leader of Alberta's official Opposition isn't ready to jump on the 2026 Calgary Winter Olympics band wagon.

Jason Kenney, who is hoping to become premier in the provincial election next spring, told the Calgary Chamber of Commerce he wants to know the real cost to taxpayers of holding the event.

"The province is broke," Kenney said.

"I think we'd all love to have the Olympics, but we're all asking ourselves can we afford it?"

Calgary, Stockholm, Sweden, and Milan-Cortina, Italy, have received the International Olympic Committee's approval to bid for the 2026 Winter Games.

But Calgary must first successfully sell the bid to residents ahead of a Nov. 13 plebiscite.

Kenney said he will need more information about costs before he can vote.

"We're hearing now the provincial share would be at least $1 billion. I share the skepticism of many people about these kinds of initial estimates on major projects like Olympics always being very conservative," Kenney said.

"I suspect the number will grow and grow and grow from there. I, for one, as a Calgary voter, don't know how to vote until I see the real numbers."

Calgary 2026's draft plan estimates the cost of holding the Games at $5.2 billion and asks the three levels of government to contribute $3 billion of that.

The plan would be for the remainder to be paid through Games revenue.

The budget includes $1.1 billion in operating and capital contingency funds to mitigate risk, according to the bid committee.

Kenney acknowledges that even if he is successful in being elected premier next year, the decision is likely to have already been made on provincial support.

"By and large we don't want to be second-guessing decisions that have been made."

The Alberta government insisted that Calgary hold a plebiscite, which is non-binding, and contributed $2 million to the cost.

The province also committed to publicly stating 30 days before the plebiscite what it would contribute to the Games. That deadline is Saturday.

In Edmonton on Tuesday, Premier Rachel Notley said the province will soon be releasing the numbers on Olympic contributions, but she didn't give a date.

"We're still in conversations, and we'll see where that ends up," she said at the legislature.

She was asked about concerns over a possible low turnout on the plebiscite and whether such a low turnout could affect her interpretation of its legitimacy.

"There must be an opportunity for the people of Calgary to vote. If they show up, great. If they don't show up, then that in a way is also them expressing their opinion," Notley said. "All we can do is provide the opportunity.

"We'll listen to what the results are."

— With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

News from © The Canadian Press, 2018
The Canadian Press

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