Victoria hiding $ 170m in Games cost: audit
GOVERNMENT Review tabulated expenses that we don’t, minister responsible says
The B. C. government has hidden at least $ 170 million from the true cost of staging the 2010 Olympics and its $ 600million Games budget could go a lot higher, Auditor-General John Doyle warned Friday.
“ I think they could be more transparent and I'm the third auditor-general in a row to say this,” he said in an interview.
Doyle said “ fundamental differences of opinion” still exist between his office and the government about what constitutes a Games cost.
He said the $ 170 million in costs not counted by government include $ 47 million for the 2010 Winter Games Secretariat, $ 21 million for pavilions in Turin and Beijing, $ 15 million from BC Hydro, $ 15 million from B. C. Lottery Corp. and $ 6 million from ICBC.
“ We need to bring all expenses together in one report that shows everything and allows citizens to see what the financial footprint is for the Games,” Doyle said.
“ I'd also like to see completion of the benefits model so citizens can have the entire picture of how the whole process is going.”
A 2006 report from former auditorgeneral Arn van Iersel put the government's true Olympics costs at around $ 2.5 billion. That estimate included SeatoSky Highway improvements and Canada Line costs the government feels are unrelated to staging the Games.
After working much of this year on an updated Games audit, Doyle produced a report and the government drafted a five-page response but he chose not to release them.
“ When I looked at all the information I had and released a detailed report, I would be saying the same thing that I could say on one page in a letter,” he said.
Doyle did release a copy of a letter he sent this week to legislature Speaker Bill Barisoff, where he warned that financial risks associated with some costs and revenues have not been adequately disclosed.
“ Should these risks come to pass, the cost of staging the Games could escalate considerably,” he says in the letter.
Finance Minister Colin Hansen, the minister responsible for the Olympics, said he was surprised at the tone of the letter because it implies the government has been hiding something.
“ If you read their report and our response, it gives the public a pretty good picture of where things are at,” he said. “ That's my frustration. It's up to him to release those documents and I urge him to do so.”
Hansen insisted the government's $ 600-million Games budget is still on track and said the $ 170 million in extra costs noted by Doyle are not relevant to staging the Games. He said an arena renovation in Kimberley was included as one of those extra costs.
“ Lots of people have different definitions of what should or should not be an Olympic-related cost,” he said. “ But all of the information is public and people can add up whatever numbers they want.”
Hansen said the only uncertain cost right now is the cost of Games security, which the federal government admits will shoot up from $ 175 million to more than $ 400 million. He said the province is still trying to determine its share of any higher security costs.
“[ Doyle] flags that as one of the risks and we agree with him,” Hansen said. “ We're in the middle of determining that now.”
Doyle said the Vancouver Olympic organizing committee's current $ 1.6-billion, break-even operating budget is under pressure now because of the economic downturn and he looks forward to seeing its revised budget early next year.
He said while Vanoc needs to improve its budget assumptions, he gave it credit for having most Olympic venues near completion.
“ While costs have exceeded the original budget, I am pleased to report that, on the whole, [ Vanoc] has done a good job of managing the timely completion of venue construction under their control,” Doyle wrote in his letter to Barisoff.
He recommends the government expand its definition of Games-related costs and report publicly on the costs and the risks associated with them.
“ Government should be confident enough to clearly explain what it is doing as it's doing it,” Doyle said. “ There's no need to be anything but totally transparent.”
NDP Olympics critic Harry Bains said the government is doing a disservice to taxpayers by constantly butting heads w i t h t h e a u d i t o r - g e n e r a l a b o u t Olympics costs.
“ The auditor-general is one office that rises above political bias to give taxpayers a true picture of expenditures,” he said. “ This government continues to fight with him and frustrate that office.”