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Resort municipality status part of Canmore's Olympic negotiations

CANMORE – For well over a decade, political leaders in the Bow Valley have been hard-pressed to get the provincial government to recognize resort communities as having distinct needs, but with the possibility of a 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games bi
The Winter Olympic Torch Parade held in Canmore in 1988.
The Winter Olympic Torch Parade held in Canmore in 1988.

CANMORE – For well over a decade, political leaders in the Bow Valley have been hard-pressed to get the provincial government to recognize resort communities as having distinct needs, but with the possibility of a 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid on the books, the Town of Canmore may be significantly closer to getting a deal than ever before.

Successive mayors of Canmore, Banff and Jasper have lobbied provincial governments and cabinet ministers since the early 2000s to establish a mechanism to recognize that visitor-based economies require a greater infrastructure and operational service program than other municipalities.

From directional signage to recreational programs, from streets and roads operations and parks services to policing – playing host to millions of visitors a year requires additional human resources and infrastructure.

As the Town of Canmore moves forward with the official Bid Corporation for a possible 2026 event, all levels of government will begin to negotiate the multi-party agreement and, according to Chief Administrative Officer Lisa de Soto, this is where the deal making is done.

“The multi-party agreement is the commitment between parties of who pays for what and what gets done,” said de Soto during a recent talk at the Bow Valley Builders and Developers Association luncheon. “My understanding is that if it doesn’t get negotiated in the multi-party agreement, then it doesn’t get done and that is going to be the big work of the bid corporation through summer.”

The CAO for the municipality has been officially named as Canmore’s representative on the BidCo board of directors, with the potential for the valley to have more movers and shakers at the table with several positions open for nominations.

The possibility of resort-community status and what it could mean for Canmore as a visitor-based economy is one of the driving negotiations de Soto would be pursuing from her seat at the table.

With more than a decade of studies and requests to successive governments in the province, de Soto said this time Canmore may see traction on the issue, which is tied directly to how the small town would pay for the mega sporting event and its legacy.

“If you have been following municipal politics over the last year you will know that Canmore, along with the towns of Jasper and Banff, have been advocating for some time for better revenue tools from the province other than property taxes,” de Soto said during the luncheon.

“We need those revenue tools in order to support our growing tourism industry because tourism is an economic driver; not just for us locally, but it is a significant driver in the province.

“Our local taxpayers have disproportionately been funding that tourism infrastructure to the benefit of the province.”

The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics saw the mountain town of Whistler serve as co-host of the Games, and receive a significant amount of affordable housing in exchange, as well as official resort municipality initiative status.

The status means the municipality receives funding through the hotel tax collected in the community on an annual basis for operational and capital expenses related to visitation. Whistler receives an estimated $7 million annually through MSI funding.

“This opportunity for the Olympics gives us added leverage to hopefully, finally, conclude our negotiations with the province on this topic,” said de Soto, adding there is a lot to learn from Whistler’s experience as a co-host.

“Key lessons from Whistler include positioning the Games as the strategy, not the outcome. This isn’t about a six-week event in 2026; it is about maximizing business opportunities pre, during and post games. It is about ensuring businesses are being strategic, not just opportunistic, and that we are prepared to face the challenges that come, not just the opportunities.”

Reaching an official resort municipality status with the province would satisfy one of the nine draft guiding principles administration has prepared for council to steer administration into the future, she said.

Along with finding a way to minimize the effect a $4.6 billion event would have on local taxpayers, the principles set out that Canmore should look to achieve legacies that resolve current community challenges.

“The greatest challenge we have in this community, the number one priority for council, is addressing community affordability and specifically access to affordable housing,” de Soto said. “Whistler’s legacy of affordable housing after the Olympics was considerable.”

The Whistler Housing Authority, which was used to model Canmore Community Housing Corporation after, achieved 200 affordable housing units, 44 market housing units and a 180-bed hostel. It was also able to obtain 300 acres for the development of future housing for the community.

Canmore is currently looking at its lands along Palliser Trail adjacent to Stoneworks Creek and Cross Z Ranch and other affordable housing projects as the possible site for housing. De Soto said the deal could leave CCHC, which is a municipally-owned Crown corporation, with 1,200 more bedrooms, or 300 units, of housing for its Perpetually Affordable Housing (PAH) program.

“Through the development of these lands, we would also address other community priorities,” she said, “including flood mitigation on Stoneworks Creek, a pedestrian overpass over the highway in that area and adding needed local commercial uses for the added residential density that would be there.”

Whether Canmore ends up participating in the required plebiscite the City of Calgary is planning, de Soto said what is key for municipal officials is to provide the most accurate information around what a 2026 Olympics would look like for the community, both during and after the event.

She said it is possible for Canmore to leverage its strength as a centre for sport excellence already into economic diversification for the future. She also said there is some thought that Canmore is a centre for para-nordic sport excellence and that could be leveraged into the future after the Paralympic Games particularly.

“It is incumbent for me as an administrator for the Town of Canmore, and for town council, to consider all perspectives and do a thorough evaluation of the opportunities and challenges,” de Soto said.

So far Canmore has only approved spending $200,000 from the economic development reserve to engage in the process. The funds included sending de Soto and the mayor to the Olympic Games as part of the International Olympic Committee’s observer program and two members of staff to the Paralympics.

“It is important to note that participation with the Bid Corporation does not mean the Town of Canmore has decided to bid,” de Soto said. “It is also important to note the cost of submitting the bid is significant – at $30 million – and it is being funded by the other three levels of government and Canmore is not being requested to contribute to the cost.”

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