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Politicians got de luxe treatment at Olympics Add to ...

While International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge and Canada's Winter Olympians stayed in Spartan university residences at Salt Lake City, Canadian cabinet ministers Paul DeVillers and Sheila Copps and Sport Canada officials stayed in luxury hotels, with taxpayers footing bills of up to $3,476 a night for a single suite.

Canadians took a bath on the Jacuzzi-equipped suite reserved for Mr. DeVillers, Secretary of State for Amateur Sport, paying more than $24,000 for it to sit empty for seven nights during the Games.

Documents obtained under the Access to Information Act by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin show that the government spent almost $400,000 on accommodations during the Olympics for politicians and Canadian sport functionaries, some of whom jetted to the Games aboard a government jet.

The Canadian Heritage Ministry also spent about $57,000 for tickets to events -- including four seats for the opening ceremonies and four seats for the closing ceremonies at $1,512 apiece. Nearly $60,000 went for Sport Canada logo watches, Olympic pins, embroidered jackets and fashionable Roots gear. Although the watches were distributed to athletes, the politicians and bureaucrats donned the leather-trimmed Roots jackets, scarves, sweaters and the coveted poorboy caps so they would look like the Canadian athletes.

Heritage also spent about $14,000 on receptions, ostensibly to publicize Canadian sport in the international sphere and to boost Vancouver's bid for the 2010 Games, but most guests at the receptions were Canadians.

The government's spending of hundreds of thousands of dollars at the Games doesn't sit well with struggling athletes. The Canadian Snowboard Federation received a paltry $15,000 in federal funding during 2000-2001, leading up to the Salt Lake Games; when Ross Rebagliati won the first Olympic gold for that sport at Nagano in 1998, the federation wasn't even recognized by the federal funding agency.

The cash-strapped women's cross-country ski team boosted its training fund between the Nagano and Salt Lake Games by marketing a calendar depicting the athletes nude. Last year, the national cross-country-ski team had a $350,000 budget -- less than the amount spent in three weeks on the government's hotel rooms -- and national cross-country coach Dave Wood said the team expected a post-Olympic funding cutback.

"It made me pretty sick," said cross-country Olympian Sara Renner, when she heard of the government's spending at Salt Lake. "Politicians wanted to look like athletes, but the obvious difference is that their wallets are a lot heavier."

Much of the federal money was spent at the Hotel Monaco, a luxury boutique hotel in the centre of Salt Lake City. It features complimentary massages and wine each night in the Deco-styled lobby. Sport Canada, a department of Heritage, took six double rooms there at $690 (U.S.) a night, three junior suites at $930 (U.S.) a night and the posh Majestic Suite at $2,200 (U.S.) a night. The mahogany-furnished Majestic Suite features a Jacuzzi in the master bedroom, a dining table for eight, 25-inch remote-control colour TV, Nintendo 64 games, a CD player, Starbucks coffee -- and an ironing board.

Mr. DeVillers said in an interview that he occupied the Majestic Suite for a dozen of the 19 nights it was booked. His wife joined him for one weekend during the Games. Ms. Copps, the Heritage Minister, stayed at the $200 (U.S.) a night Little America Hotel, the secured official digs of the IOC, he said.

Rick Tanner, the Hotel Monaco's director of sales and marketing, played down its luxuries as "pale in comparison to any Holiday Inn in Las Vegas -- no grand piano, no spiral staircase. In the world of hotel suites, it's pretty conservative."

So is the price, without the Olympics in town. The Majestic Suite rented last night for $350, Mr. Tanner said. "But during the period of the Olympics, all bets were off. There was premium pricing," he said of the $2,200 a night picked up by Canada's taxpayers.

Rooms at the Hotel Monaco and three condominium units were booked for Sport Canada's 12-member party through the Canadian Olympic Association's official agent for the Games, Carlson Marketing Group Ltd.

The total for accommodation and booking fees cited in the documents was $251,760 (U.S.) -- more than $397,000 (Canadian).

"In booking for the Olympics, you have to book for the whole duration, and what Sport Canada has to do is guess what the requirement will be in advance," said Mr. DeVillers, who succeeded Denis Coderre as Canada's Sport Minister only three weeks before the Olympics. "I'm satisfied it was done properly. The suite was also used as our meeting room."

On the use of the Challenger jet -- usually calculated at $5,000 to $6,000 an hour to operate on a commercial basis -- Mr. DeVillers argued that it was actually cheaper than booking regular flights for the politicians and Sport Canada staffers. "It's already owned by the taxpayers, it's flown by military staff who are already salaried and because the flight crew have to keep up their certification they have to fly that plane regularly -- the fuel would be burned up anyway on that basis. You really don't dip further into public revenue."

As for dressing up politicians and Sport Canada staff in the Olympic uniforms that athletes sweat for years to earn, Mr. DeVillers called it "the usual way of doing things at Olympics. We're part of the Canadian delegation. We don't skate the short track and don't take the bumps and bruises, but we're certainly there representing the country, and it's only reasonable to be dressed accordingly and be identified with Canada." Gold-medal guests Highlights of Federal spending at the Winter Olympics ACCOMMODATION (all figures U.S.): Little America Hotel and Towers Number of rooms: three for 20 days. Rate: $200 plus $22.40 tax, each night. Total: $13,464. Hotel Monaco Number of rooms: one suite, six double, standard rooms and three junior suites, all for 19 nights. Rates: $2,200 a night for suite; $690 a night for double and $930 a night for junior suite. Total: $194,206, including travel-agency-management fee. Trolley Regent Condominiums Number of units: one two-bedroom for 22 nights, one three-bedroom for 22 nights and one three-bedroom for 28 nights. Rate: $470 a night for two-bedroom and $675 a night for three-bedroom. Total: $44,090. LOOKING THE PART (all figures Canadian): Embroidered Sport Canada jackets, $2,204.41 Roots podium jackets, $12,278.25 Roots mock turtleneck sweaters, $2,347.26 Roots poorboy hats, $2,662 Roots scarves, $2,918.96 Roots gloves, $1,579.42 Roots ribbed sweaters, $3,336.57 Salt Lake Olympic pins, $19,260 Sport Canada watches (for athletes), $12,305

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