On the day Toronto 2015 officials unveiled their plans to the Pan American community, the 91-cent parking ticket reared its ugly head again.
Ian Troop and David Peterson faced more questions Thursday about bonuses and expenses, at the same time members of the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO) praised them for being better prepared than any previous Pan Am Games organizing committee.
“We can’t change the 91-cent parking ticket, but what we can change is to get the dialogue focused on what these Games mean, what the venues are, the legacies we’re leaving behind, the impact the 20,000 volunteers can have on how Canada is viewed by the world, and what capabilities they have when they come back home and participate in their communities,” Troop said.
“We’ve got to see the victory and we’re working hard to make sure this is a great Games.”
Critics cried foul last week over the expenses TO2015 officials were billing. Troop, the president and CEO of TO2015, billed taxpayers for a 91-cent parking ticket.
Some 350 delegates from Olympic committees and international sport federations have gathered in Toronto for the PASO General Assembly, a key part of which included a lengthy presentation Thursday morning by Toronto officials on their readiness.
The biggest assembly before the Games themselves open on July 10 of 2015, however, comes on the heels of a controversial few days that have seen organizers blasted for big bonuses and expenses claimed.
“We try to scrutinize things, but it doesn’t mean we’re perfect, and we do dumb things, and we’re not the only people in the world that do dumb things, but we do occasionally do dumb things,” said Peterson, the former Ontario premier who’s now the chair of the TO2015 organizing committee.
“Have we missed a few small things? Maybe. But the board doesn’t check expense accounts, there’s an audit committee that does that, they went there with scrutiny. But they might look at something and think it’s good, and somebody else might look and think that’s kind of dumb and we’re going to hang it out there and make them look stupid.”
There was outrage over the $7 million bonus package that will be paid to 64 executives if the Games come in on budget and on time. Troop, who was paid a base salary of $390,000 last year plus an $87,000 bonus, will be eligible for a $780,000.
“A lot of our bonuses are performance driven, so from our perspective we want to deliver the capital budget on or under budget, we want to make sure we operate within the operating budgets we’ve been given, we want to make sure that this is a fantastic event,” Troop said. “If that investment in talent results in the $1.4 billion being spent wisely, (the bonus package) is a very sound investment.”
Troop said TO2015 officials were “tightening up expenses,” and will publish all expenses online on a quarterly basis beginning in the next quarter.
The biggest mistake made, Peterson added, was not understanding the public reaction.
“The policies were followed. Why is a 91-cent parking expense get more attention than the fact we’re $50 million under budget? Explain that to me.”
“You’ve got to be smart and use common sense, and probably common sense wasn’t used,” he added. “We’ve got to exercise more judgement. If that parking ticket had been $20 would it have been an issue? It’s the fact it was $1, and it does attract attention, and people take offence to this, and so we have to be smart about this.”
The questions posed came in the middle of what was an otherwise good day for TO2015 organizers, who made a lengthy presentation to PASO on the progress of the Games. Nine speakers addressed everything from security to venue construction to medical services.
Mike Fennell, president of the Jamaican Olympic Committee and head of PASO’s technical commission, praised organizers, saying preparations “were more advanced than any I have experienced at any other Games.”
Most of the venues are ahead of schedule, including the athletes village, which is more than 55 per cent complete. The Welland Pan Am Flatwater Centre is complete, and held its first test event — the world junior canoe and kayak championships last summer.
The one major concern about Toronto is transportation. They’re not a compact Games. Six sports will be held in four venues that are between 51 and 75 kilometres from the downtown athletes village. TO2015 officials have been urged to secure transportation lanes for the Games.
Ivar Sisniega, PASO’s first vice-president, said Toronto’s organizing committee was given a list last April of 64 issues it must resolve, and as of Monday, 45 of them were resolved, and 19 were on their way to being resolved.
Organizers are replicating the Rio 2016 Olympic program as closely as possible, so rugby sevens and golf will make their Pan Am debuts in Toronto. It’s hoped the Games will act as Olympic qualifiers for between 14 and 18 sports.
FINA — the world governing body for swimming — has agreed to change its dates of the 2015 world aquatic championships so they don’t interfere with the Pan Ams.
There are expected to be between 35 and 40 Pan Am test events before 2015, with 20 of them confirmed so far.
Canadian Olympic Committee president Marcel Aubut said he would guarantee that Canada sends “its best athletes and its largest team ever at any multi-sport Games” to Toronto in 2015.
“It’s very simple, we want to make Toronto 2015 an outstanding, unforgettable Games, with adoring fans, and in Olympic calibre venues, and with worldwide competition. This is why we want your best athletes to come and compete in this unique environment that we created,” he told the PASO delegates.
“As you could see, Toronto, Ontario, Canada is ready, and we are excited and committed to make Toronto 2015 outstanding and the best ever Games.”
As for the recent controversies, Peterson hopes they’ll be mostly forgotten by the Games.
“We’ll make other mistakes along the way, and somebody will blame you for it, and this is all mixed up in political agendas as well, and some people are going to keep beating you with a stick. But that’s OK, that’s part of an open and free society,” he said. “I think the story is so compellingly good on the other side, that I think the good will overlay the bad in most people’s minds.”