Ontario’s New Democrats are crying foul after provincial transit agency Metrolinx used public funds to pay for a sponsorship deal with the Toronto International Film Festival and employees received discounted tickets to a football game as part of a promotion.
The NDP on Monday asked the auditor-general to investigate the practice, which Trinity-Spadina MPP Rosario Marchese dubbed “a problem.”
“Why do they need to be involved in any sponsorship programs at all?” Mr. Marchese said. “The public, when it looks at this and sees it, says: ‘I don’t get it. I ain’t going to see this football game, somebody else is and what’s the purpose of this?’”
The sponsorships were arranged two years ago but only came to light this weekend when the Toronto Sun obtained internal Metrolinx documents through an access to information request.
In one case, Metrolinx put up $30,000 of public money for TIFF in 2011 in exchange for the opportunity to advertise to film-goers, the newspaper reported. The agency also received free tickets.
“This [money] effectively purchased VIP tickets to TIFF events for Metrolinx staff,” Mr. Marchese wrote in his letter to the auditor-general. “It is unclear what benefit Ontarians derived from having Metrolinx staff attend Film Festival events at this cost. Metrolinx apparently failed to track how these tickets were used.”
That same year, as part of a promotional partnership with the Rogers Centre, Metrolinx was given a pile of tickets to the Bills in Toronto – a game between the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins. The tickets ordinarily sell for $225, but Metrolinx employees were able to buy them for just $25.
Metrolinx spokeswoman Anne-Marie Aikins said that GO Transit, a division of the agency, has had promotional deals with various organizations – including the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Canadian National Exhibition – since the early 1990s. The purpose of all these deals, she said, is to attract new riders.
The TIFF sponsorship, she said, was the only one on which Metrolinx has spent money.
She also said the agency has put in place stricter rules around promotions since 2011. Any free tickets the agency now receives are no longer used by Metrolinx staff.
“When it was brought to the attention of the CEO in 2011 that event tickets were not being clearly managed or tracked, new rules were implemented across the organization to ensure greater accountability in the management of our promotional partnership program,” she wrote. “Since 2011, tickets are declined, not used, donated to charity or used to raise funds for charity, and tickets are tracked.”
It was not immediately clear whether the auditor-general would investigate.
In an email, spokeswoman Christine Pedias said that when issues are raised with his office “we do consider the information when planning our future value-for-money audits for our Annual Report.”