The B.C. government says the province spent $925-million on the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver in a new report released Friday that sidesteps significant costs associated with the international competition.
The Campbell government for several years maintained that the cost of the Olympics would not exceed $600-million. Last year, the government increased its commitment by $165-million as its contribution to the ballooning cost of security, which rose to just under $1-billion.
Finance Minister Colin Hansen insisted Friday that the government had stuck to its commitment offered eight years ago to spend $600-million.
All the numbers are public information and people can draw whatever conclusions they want, Colin Hansen
The budget of $600-million reflected the obligations of the B.C. government to the International Olympic Committee, he told reporters in a conference call. The government spent more as a result of security costs, bringing the total up to $765-million.
However he dismissed any suggestion that the additional $160-million was an inflation of the government's initial estimates.
Those expenses were optional activities "to leverage the Games" but were not required, he said. The government could have delivered on its commitment from 2002 without exceeding its estimates, he said, adding that the wild fluctuations in the economy over recent years had absolutely no impact whatsoever on the government's bill for the Olympics.
B.C. auditor-general Arn van Iersel in 2006 estimated that $1.9-billion was a more realistic price tag for the province's contribution to the Olympics, taking into account a portion of the rapid transit line and the highway. Others have placed the costs ever higher.
Mr. Hansen said people can add up whatever list they want to. "All the numbers are public information and people can draw whatever conclusions they want," he said.
NDP critic Kathy Corrigan said the government was "fessing up" to more of the costs but was still less than transparent in providing a full accounting of the three-week event.
"They are still hiding stuff," she said in an interview moments after the report was released. "We do not know the whole story and I don't know if we ever will."
She questioned why costs were not set out for Crown corporations and for loaning 250 public sector employees to VANOC, the Olympic's Vancouver operating committee. Also 400 government employees had leave from their jobs to volunteer.
"They say it is not applicable because [the government employees]work for government anyway. Well, it's a cost of the Olympics and it should be assigned to the Olympics. They were doing Olympic business and not doing their regular job," Ms. Corrigan said.
The ministry acknowledges that provincial Crown corporations were financially involved. The total cost of their spending was also left out, although they note that B.C. Hydro spent $1.8-million on "customer appreciation programs" and the Insurance Corporation of B.C. provided insurance coverage for a fleet of 4,700 vehicles worth $6.2-million, including $2.8-million in claims costs.
B.C. Hydro has previously attributed $15-million in spending to the Olympics.
The finance ministry report acknowledges that provincial tax dollars were spent on projects such as the $1-billion Sea-To-Sky highway from Vancouver to Whistler and the $2-billion rapid transit Canada Line from Richmond and the airport to downtown Vancouver. The province recognizes that the highway upgrade was critical to the success of the Games, the ministry report says. The benefits of the rapid transit line contributed significantly to its success, the ministry also says.
But the government does not attribute any of the cost to the price tag for the Olympics.
The report notes that the B.C. Lotteries were involved in several Games-related activities. The costs were covered through the purchase of gaming tickets without additional costs for taxpayers. B.C. Lotteries has previously said that $15-million was spent on Olympic-related activities.
Another cost that is noted but not included in the calculation of the province's bill is the $30-million spent on BC Place. With or without the Games, BC Place was in need of major upgrades to remain commercially viable, the report says. VANOC put $11-million into BC Place to make the facility ready for hosting the Games and the province put in an additional $19-million - "to not only make the facility ready for the 2010 Games but for other events necessary to support longer term commercial sustainability of stadium operations," the report says.
The report also does not mention $300-million that was spent on the so-called Olympic bonuses, money that was paid to provincial employees who agreed to sign four year contracts that ended after the Games
B.C. auditor-general Arn van Iersel in 2006 insisted that $2.5-billion in Olympic related projects was a more realistic price tag. The auditor included the Sea-To-Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler and sections of the new Canada rapid transit rail line that included an extra station to service the Olympic Village.
He estimated the entire bill for the taxpayers - at the federal, provincial and municipal level - at $4.3-billion.
The 16-page report was prepared by the B.C. Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Secretariat. The costs incurred by the provincial government are called investments throughout the report. The financing accounting is not intended to cover costs by other levels of government or the Vancouver Organizing Committee.
In an unsigned introduction to the numbers, the ministry says the Winter Games were "an incredible success and are leading to lasting legacies for all British Columbia."
"While the costs and benefits of that decision will be the subject of some comprehensive studies yet to come, preliminary results indicate that this was one of the best provincial decisions ever," the anonymous remarks say.
The report says the B.C. government spent exactly what the politicians said would be spent in 2002, except for the unforeseen cost of increased security. The $600-million commitment included $290-million for construction of 15 competition sites and housing and $19.6-million for the so-called live sites where fans could watch the competitions and enjoy entertainment without buying tickets. Another $55-million was spent on operating the competition sites, $49.5-million was contributed to the budget of the Vancouver Operating Committtee and $36.1-million went to First Nations and municipal governments.
The provincial government also provided a list of activities costing $160-million that were undertaken to take advantage of the potential benefits from hosting the Games. The report says $47.6-million went to administration responsible for coordinating activities among provincial ministries and agencies, planning provincial activities and providing oversight of provincial investments. The wildly-popular torch relay accounted for $7.6-million; $14.4-million was spent on high definition video packages and special effects for the Olympic's opening ceremonies; $16.7-million went to promotion at the Torino 2006 Winter Games and Beijing 2008 Summer Games; $6.2-million to the BC/Canada Pavilion and $38-million was spent to promote tourism in the province.
The giant set of Olympic rings at the airport and Coal Harbour cost $4.5-million. Another $15.4-million was spent on turning Robson Square into a celebration site.