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09/20/2018 12:57 EDT | Updated 09/22/2018 09:44 EDT

How To Face The Complexity Of A Calgary 2026 Winter Olympics Decision

On November 13, Calgarians will be asked to vote on a decision that may impact the city for decades.

On November 13, Calgarians will be asked to cast potentially the most important ballot of their lives. In this vote, we will directly weigh in on whether we want our city to bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

At its core, it forces each of us to try to weigh the pros and cons of a decision, to consider the costs and estimate the benefits. And, one of the largest events in the world, this is complicated. Here are a few of the complicated numbers from Calgary 2026 you'll need to consider:

  • $5,230,000,000. The estimated total cost (operating & infrastructure) of the 2026 Olympic & Paralympic Games
  • $3,000,000,000. Estimated required public funding from all levels of government.
  • $2,233,000,000. The forecasted IOC and private sector funding
  • $1,762,000,000. The estimated amount of funding to be focused on legacy construction
  • 30,000. The approximate number of line items in the 2026 Budget
  • 5,600. The number of pages in the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee Report
  • 2,600. New housing units to be built for the Games
  • 2200. Forecasted jobs
  • 8. Renovated sports facilities in the plan
  • 1. New Calgary Field House and community arena
  • 0. New NHL caliber arena

This is a big complex question. A multibillion-dollar question, yes. But it's also a question of how our city – and our citizens' lives – might be changed for generations. Some ripples will be positive, others not so much.

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The trouble with big questions is that they're complex, confusing and painful to answer. Research shows that a common human response to complex problems is to pursue simplicity and comfort. We look for shortcuts and bubble-wrap ourselves in a comfort zone of people who agree with us.

We selectively search for or interpret information in ways that confirm our existing beliefs and ignore information to the contrary. Research shows we're four times more likely to ignore information we don't agree with.

Our desire for simplicity and comfort, though a logical, human response, creates more problems than it solves. Fortunately, researchers have explored effective ways to approach these kinds of problems. We thought it might be helpful for Calgary voters to consider this research as they approach the 2026 Bid or No Bid Vote.

Albert Einstein once said, "If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it." What he meant is that asking the right questions is far more important than answering the wrong ones. Applied to the 2026 Games, there are many small but important questions that you need to think about and prioritize at a personal level. This isn't easy as these questions are endless. Here are just a few:

  • If Calgary votes to not bid, what are the implications?
  • Does using the Games as a means to build affordable housing units make sense?
  • How important is keeping the existing Olympic and Paralympic infrastructure (e.g. WinSport, Oval) to the future of the city?
  • How important is upgrading McMahon Stadium, the Saddledome or Stampede Park to the city?
  • How important is it that Calgary have a field house?
  • Will these investments positively or negatively impact my commute?
  • How much of the costs are coming out of my pocket, compared to the pockets of the International Olympic Committee, sponsors and broadcasters?
  • With billions in public funding required to host, if we decide to not bid, will this save me money?

By answering, evaluating and prioritizing your smaller questions, you will have enough evidence to decide on your vote. But there's more to keep in mind.

Beware of shortcuts to an answer. So-called experts will try to persuade you that this big decision is a simple balance sheet. They will debate cost, depreciation, risk and revenues. They will tell you that you can measure every cost and every benefit. They are wrong.

After breaking down the big question into smaller and more personal ones, it will be apparent that the 2026 decision can't be transformed into a magic number – regardless of how appealing this sounds. The systematic and personal ripple effects make the answer far more complex than that, with many intangible implications to consider.

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Over the next two months, there will be well-intentioned and passionate people trying to persuade you on the merits of a "yes" or a "no" vote. Make sure to recognize you're being persuaded and ask yourself who is trying to sell you and why. The choice to invest (or not) in new sport, cultural, transportation and housing assets is not about the Games, rather it is about the impacts that will result and affect (or not) every facet of Calgary.

For some, they are passionate Olympic advocates and the benefits may be obvious to them. For others, they may be ideologically opposed to the principle of investing public funds into any sport, cultural or housing infrastructure.

Both are trying to persuade you based on their own deeply rooted values and beliefs. Your job is to cut through the clutter and attempt to make your own objective decision, rooted in your own values and beliefs, informed by evidence.

You may hear arguments like, "the Games are amazing, just look at Vancouver 2010!" Or, "the Games are a disaster, just look at Montreal 1976!" Be wary of anyone who tries to generalize really complex questions by blindly benchmarking to other games. This may sound logical and be persuasive, but it's wrong. Case studies are inevitably contextual. Summer Games are not Winter Games. Canada is not Brazil or Russia. We aren't living in the 1970s. The only real numbers that matter are related to Calgary in 2026. If people try to persuade you by using Rio or Sochi as examples, call their bluff.

On Nov. 13, Calgarians will be asked to vote on a decision that may impact the city for decades. This is overwhelming. Be patient. Ask questions. Collect the facts. Be aware when you are being persuaded. Personalize the impacts for you, your family and your community. This is not only a big decision for our city. It's ultimately a very big decision for you and your family.

David J. Finch is a professor and associate director at the Mount Royal University Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Norm O'Reilly is the assistant dean of executive programs & professor executive programs at the University of Guelph. He is also a Fellow at the Mount Royal University Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship

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