As the Olympic plebiscite nears, many Calgarians still worry the city could be stuck with a huge cost overrun for security.
It’s a false fear.
Overruns could be caused by nightmares we’d rather not think about — a planned attack from bad people via cyberspace, from the air, or on the ground.
That becomes a national security crisis, for which the government of the host country is clearly responsible.
It’s been that way for every Olympics, including Vancouver in 2010. Nobody has ever imagined a national government sticking a host city with runaway security costs.
“When something bad threatens to happen, security people do what they have to do,” says crisis expert Jim Stanton, who worked on both the Vancouver Games and Calgary’s G8 leaders meeting in 2002.
“It’s like war. If you’re in the army and you need 10 shells to fire, you don’t ask if they’re in the budget. The dollars follow the problem.”
And in this case, the dollars are federal.
But senior security people hate talking about details. They do not want public release of budget numbers, or staffing details, or overall strategic planning.
That’s one reason Ottawa has been so exasperatingly vague and contradictory.
Federal messaging, such as it is, went badly awry when Sport Minister Kirsty Duncan suggested Ottawa wouldn’t pay for any overruns.
But it’s not her business. She shouldn’t even be talking about it.
The duty lies with federal minister Ralph Goodale’s Public Safety department. It’s expected to reach a firm, signed security agreement with BidCo and the province next month.
There may be some comment from Goodale’s corner before Tuesday’s vote.
“It would certainly be nice if he said it, but even if he doesn’t it’s my clear understanding,” says Mayor Naheed Nenshi, referring to the Ottawa’s responsibility to cover overruns.
Don’t expect much detail from the feds, though.
“If the bad guys have any idea about your operation, they can plan accordingly,” Stanton says. “If you’re going big, so might they.”
And if you appear to go small, that can be taken as enticing weakness.
The recent report by Calgary 2026 Bid Corp. of cuts in security budgeting, by $155 million, was potentially counterproductive in a dangerous way.
The revelation could encourage the wrong people. It also alarmed some Calgarians by suggesting the organizers would scrimp on safety to make the budget look good.
Some Olympic veterans believe security for Calgary’s 2026 bid is being discussed in public too early and in too much detail.
“There hasn’t been anything like it at this stage before, as far as I know,” says John Furlong, former boss of Vancouver’s Olympic Organizing Committee.
Furlong says he can see value in local organizers thinking hard about security.
But overall, the early disclosure led people to expect a level of detail that can’t possibly be supplied eight years before the event.
In Vancouver, the deal with the International Olympic Committee stipulated that security costs were the responsibility of the federal government and the province, not the city.
There was nothing about security in the Vancouver Organizing Committee’s operating budget.
It wasn’t until February 2009 — a year before the Vancouver Games — that a solid security plan was unveiled.
Ottawa said the cost would be about $900 million.
A huge number, to be sure, but remember Vancouver’s extra security problem, the long and vulnerable B.C. coastline.
And the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York were still much on the mind of security services.
Ottawa assumed full responsibility for the spending. In return, the provincial government agreed to pay some unrelated infrastructure costs that were technically Ottawa’s responsibility.
That’s the kind of deal the Calgary bid needs. How can it be denied, after Vancouver had it?
Overall, the fear that big security overruns will bankrupt Calgary appears completely unfounded.
But none of that will mean a thing if Calgary voters kill the bid next Tuesday.
Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.
Facebook: Don Braid Politics
Note from WSOE.Org : This content has been auto-generated from a syndicated feed.