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B.C. hiding full cost of Olympics: auditor

British Columbia's financial watchdog says the provincial government is fudging its Olympic budget and he's refusing to release an Olympic audit until the Liberals turn over the numbers.

Auditor general John Doyle said the province's $600-million price tag for hosting the 2010 Winter Games doesn't reflect expenses like the B.C. pavilion at the Beijing Olympics, while the province's finance minister said those kind of costs have nothing to do with Vancouver's Games.

The dispute is holding up a scheduled auditor's report on Olympic spending.

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"Government has resisted reporting on all these matters for some time," said Mr. Doyle.

"I am the third auditor general to look at this, and the third auditor general to come to the same conclusion and that is that government should actually provide a wholesome, clear and timely accounting for all the Games-related expenditure."

Mr. Doyle is holding back his audit, saying until the government gives over all the information, there's no point releasing it.

But Colin Hansen, the minister of finance, said the price tag for any government expenditure is included in the province's overall budget, making the books entirely public for anyone who has an interest.

He said he'd like the audit released, along with the government's five-page response.

"It comes down to disagreement in terms of what should or should not be a cost of staging the Olympic Games," Mr. Hansen said.

"We have $600-million that's in our envelope for the cost of staging the Games and it goes back to the commitments we made to the International Olympic Committee at the time of the bid."

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Paying for items like the B.C. pavilion in Beijing doesn't reflect that commitment, Mr. Hansen said, nor do the contributions made by Crown agencies like B.C. Lottery Corp. and BC Hydro.

"What Hydro is doing is actually building infrastructure that they would have had to build anyway," Mr. Hansen said.

"[The organizing committee's]relationship with Hydro for the electricity they consume is a totally commercial activity."

The auditor general said including those commitments would inflate the province's Olympic budget by $170-million.

Mr. Hansen said the costs, either way you look at them, will benefit the province long-term.

"British Columbia is going to lead Canada in economic growth in 2010 and it's largely because of the Olympics," said Mr. Hansen.

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Arguments over the actual cost of the Olympics have been dogging B.C.'s Liberal government since the bid was awarded in 2003 and are sure to become an issue in the upcoming provincial election.

"This premier ran on that promise that he will be the most open and transparent government and the most accountable government in Canada," said Harry Bains, the provincial New Democrat critic for the Olympics.

"And what he's doing by frustrating this office and how they have been hiding the true Olympic costs from the taxpayers really shows he hasn't lived up to that promise."

There are holes in the $1.6-billion operating budget for the Olympics as well, which is managed by the organizing committee, Mr. Doyle said.

He said while the budget is supposed to break even, a review found issues with regards to costs and revenue.

"We just asked 'where do you think you are going to get these funds from' and then we listened to the explanations provided by the [organizing committee]" Mr. Doyle said.

"Some of those explanations we found, the best word would be, unconvincing."

But Mr. Doyle said he's heartened by the fact that the organizing committee recently launched a review of its budget and he looks forward to seeing the revised document when its released in January.

Organizers said earlier this week they were looking at making cuts in areas like new hires in order to guard against the challenges of raising new revenue in a collapsing economy.

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