Politicians love to bet on sports — but why?

The Vancouver Canucks are leading their series against the Edmonton Oilers, after another high-scoring game on Sunday night. And as they look for another win on Tuesday, politicians are also looking for a little bit of success. 

The mayors of Edmonton and Vancouver have agreed to fly the rival team’s flag at city hall should their home team fail to win the series, and the losing mayor must wear the winning team’s jersey.

They’ve also agreed to donate money to a “worthy cause” in each other’s cities. 

The friendly bet is part of a tradition among politicians, who get the opportunity to have some fun and show the public their lighter side.

“Some things that were taken off the plate were body paint and tattoos, and I think that was actually incredibly wise because I don’t think anyone wants to see either one of us rocking a bare chest,” Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim said during an interview with CBC News.

WATCH | Vancouver, Edmonton mayors face off during Stanley Cup Playoffs

Mayors of Edmonton, Vancouver square off before Oilers-Canucks series

6 days ago

Duration 8:10

The stakes are high for the Vancouver Canucks and the Edmonton Oilers, but the teams aren’t the only ones hoping for a win. Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim and Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi have their own wager, with the losing city set to fly the rival team’s flag at city hall.

“I think people see enough of us,” Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said with a little smile.

Meanwhile, the premiers of both provinces have agreed that the loser has to deliver a statement in their provincial legislature, written by the winner, while wearing the winning team’s jersey.

In 2010 and 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barrack Obama bet a case of beer on the Canada-U.S. Olympic hockey games. A social media post Harper shared about the wager in 2014 became one of the most popular tweets of the year from a global leader.

Two men wearing suits smile and shake hands
A tweet about a bet on the outcome of the Canada-USA 2014 Olympic hockey game made Prime Minister Stephen Harper, right, one of most visible world leaders on Twitter in 2014. Harper won the beer bet he made with U.S. President Barack Obama, seen during the North American Leaders Summit in Toluca, Mexico in February 2014. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Tom Vernon, a strategic communications consultant, said politicians who enter into these bets are looking for a little goodwill in their communities and some good press.

For example, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has been under fire recently for introducing a bill that would allow the province to take over emergency management in a municipality or region — without the consent of local leaders. 

In B.C., Premier David Eby has faced criticism for changes to drug decriminalization, a pilot project that started more than a year ago and has prompted heated debate.  

“But here we are speaking about this nice bet with the Edmonton Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks,” said Vernon, who is also a die-hard Oilers fan.

Personable, agreeable

It also makes politicians seem a little more personable, Vernon suggested. 

And, in the case of the premier bet, it pushes the idea that people from differing ideological perspectives can, in some cases, get along. Eby and Smith even sat together to watch Game 2 from a private suite at Rogers Arena in Vancouver last week. 

“[Eby] and Danielle Smith I’m not sure could get much further apart, right? So here they are having a good time and making bets with each other,” Vernon said.

LISTEN | Strategic communications consultant Tom Vernon discusses sports and politics

Edmonton AM4:15Politicians getting involved with hockey

Politicians of all stripes have been busy getting in on the NHL playoffs this year, like the bet between the mayors of Vancouver and Edmonton But there are other political players getting involved too. Tom Vernon is a Strategic Communications Consultant with Crestview Strategy in Edmonton.

“At the end of the day this is about politicians are allowed to have fun too. If this changes the page on a couple of tough issues here in Alberta or changes the page on a couple of tough issues for Premier Eby in Vancouver and B.C., it’s all well worth it for them.”

Mixing sports and politics can backfire, too, Vernon said. 

For example, as Hunter, the Oilers team mascot, wandered through the Alberta legislature with Smith, outspoken members and allies of the 2SLGBTQ+ community raised concerns. 

Earlier this year, Smith said legislation around gender policies for children and youth will be announced in the fall, including only allowing youth aged 16 and 17 to start hormone therapy if they’re “deemed mature enough” and have parental, physician and psychologist approval.

“It drives me nuts when brands like @EdmontonOilers do a great job promoting pride and LGTBQ issues, but then walk arm in arm with the one we are trying to protect our rights from,” one person said on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

But, Vernon said, the fact that these political wagers make headlines is usually enough for the parties involved. 

“It’s a win if we’re speaking about it for even a short period of time,” he said.


Posted in CBC