Taxpayers should expect an Olympics-sized bill, but not much else

Franco Terrazzano
Canadian Taxpayers Federation

If Calgary hosts the Olympics, it will cost taxpayers a whole lot, for very little.

Calgary’s Olympic bidding organization, Calgary 2026, recently released its hosting plans for the 2026 Olympics. It estimates the Olympics will cost $5.2 billion, with taxpayers footing $3 billion of the total tab. Taxpayers would be on the hook for a bill that is 25 per cent larger than was predicted last year.

This begs the question: if we have already seen costs increase by this much in one year, what will the costs amount to by 2026?

Moshe Lander, a sports economist at Montreal’s Concordia University, predicts the real cost of the Games will reach nearly $8 billion.

Since the 1960s, 19 Olympics have been over budget, averaging 156 per cent overruns during those Games.

There’s no money for any of this. Calgarians have been warned about future tax increases or cuts to services. No money for the essentials, but somehow there will be money for a sporting event? Both the Alberta and federal governments have strung together years of deficits and are piling up debt. The average Calgarian owes nearly $30,000 each in federal and provincial debt.

Bunker down for the next wave of tax hikes.

Enough with the costs, what about the benefits? What are we getting for our billions of dollars? Sadly, not much.

The City of Calgary has projected billions of dollars worth of infrastructure needs that are going unfunded, and many key priorities will not receive any extra funding through the Olympics plans. Will we get a new line connecting the LRT with the airport? Nope.

But don’t worry, your tax dollars will help build a new mid-sized arena, a fieldhouse, facilities to accommodate athletes, media, sponsors and “dignitaries,” along with improvements for facilities in Canmore, Nakiska and Whistler.

What about all the government dollars that are coming to Calgary for the Olympics?

If Calgary does have an infrastructure or an affordable housing crisis (maybe governments should stop adding thousands of dollars to the price of a new house), then government spending shouldn’t be conditional on hosting a sporting event.

Federal and provincial governments take billions of tax dollars from Calgarians. One way of “putting” dollars back into Calgary’s economy is simply by taxing less.

Further, if this is little more than an attempt to squeeze more out of the federal government for Calgary, how can we justify asking a single mom in Toronto to pay more taxes so that Calgary can have a sporting bonanza?

Well, what about the economic benefits?

To be sure, greater spending from tourists and Canadians coming to enjoy the festivities will benefit our economy. But, will this generate the proposed $7 billion in benefits? Economists have been quick to decry this estimate as being absolutely overstated.

Taking money from households and entrepreneurs, sprinkling some to your stakeholders, then putting some of the money back into the economy in a way that will be partially consumed in a matter of weeks does not promote true growth.

Serious doubt should come to mind whenever a one-time government-funded party is argued for to promote the economy.

The Olympics is a sporting event on the grandest of scales. It’s a whole lot of fun. But is it worth billions of dollars in higher taxes?

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