Anger over high-paid officials with Toronto’s Pan Am Games billing taxpayers for cups of tea turned to outrage Tuesday after Ontario’s opposition parties learned there are two budgets for the event, neither of which includes money for the athletes’ village.
The NDP and Conservatives expressed “shock” after Sport Minister Michael Chan said the $1.4-billion budget for TO2015 does not include $10-million for the provincial Pan Am Secretariat, or the $709-million being spent on housing for the athletes.
“It takes a special kind of Liberal incompetence to have two sets of books, neither of which are showing $700-million or more for the athletes’ village,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. “It’s unbelievable.”
The Progressive Conservatives said the Liberals are not being transparent with taxpayers about the true cost of staging the international sporting event. They point out the government boasts the athletes’ village is the largest infrastructure project associated with the 2015 games.
“To learn that there’s $700-million of Pan Am spending that’s not included in that $1.4-billion budget is very disturbing,” said PC critic Rod Jackson. “I’m really concerned that the nickel and diming of expenses was just the tip of the iceberg.”
Documents showing TO2015 CEO Ian Troop, who was paid $477,000, billed taxpayers 91 cents for a parking spot, had the opposition up in arms about what they call a “culture of entitlement” that has flourished under the Liberal government.
The government said the athletes’ village was in a separate budget because the province intends to use the buildings for social housing, student rentals and apartments for the public after the games end.
“It’s going to have a huge payback,” said Finance Minister Charles Sousa.
But the opposition pointed out most of the facilities being built for the Pan Am games will be used for something else after the event is over.
“It’s being designed and built to be a Pan Am athletes village, pure and simple,” said Jackson. “Every other venue is going to have a use after the games. The athletes village is a Pan Am project and should be on the Pan Am books, period.”
The New Democrats said the Liberals learned nothing from their lack of oversight at eHealth Ontario and the Ornge air ambulance service, both of which became mired in scandal, and allowed the same problems to develop with TO2015.
The Tories said “the bad-faith expense claims” by executives at TO2015 are indicative of a much greater entitlement problem in the upper echelon of the Pan Am games.
“There are tens of thousands of dollars that have been burned partying in lavish hospitality suites and jaunts in Mexico and Guadalajara and London,” added Jackson.
Chan told a legislative committee Tuesday that he and Premier Kathleen Wynne both agreed some of the expenses from TO2015 were out of line, even if technically within the rules, and have ordered that the guidelines be tightened.
“Some of those items were unacceptable, ridiculous,” he said. “To me those were an irritant to my anger, and left a bad taste just like someone drinking some kind of poison.”
The minister clashed repeatedly with New Democrat Paul Miller over whether or not Chan had actually approved the expense policy for TO2015, which allows the CEO and CFO to approve each others’ claims.
“Obviously the board approved the expenses and they would report to you, and you must have said okay, you must have approved it,” insisted Miller.
“You’re wrong,” fired back Chan, who insisted TO2015 was not a provincial agency.
Any unacceptable expenses will be repaid, added Chan, but TO2015 issued a statement saying all the claims fell within the current guidelines.
Troop has declined to answer reporters’ questions about his expense claims.
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