Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Michael Coteau says the Pan Am Games' $2.5-billion budget is really at the mercy of security costs.
After spending more than three hours fielding questions before a legislative committee, including questions on the potential for ballooning security costs, Coteau insisted the Ontario Provincial Police is not getting a “blank cheque” but in the same breath said the government’s hands are tied.
“If the OPP makes recommendations in regards to the safety of these Games then I have to yield to their expertise,” the minister told reporters.
Opposition critic scoffed at the notion that all policing costs — OPP and the municipal police forces and their overtime bill — are covered off in the most recent $239 million , which is already double the original estimate.
The Games are expected to draw 7,666 athletes competing in 51 sports at venues in 16 municipalities, including Toronto, Hamilton, Milton, Ajax, Whitby, Oshawa, Caledon, St. Catharines and Welland.
OPP Inspector Mike McDonell, of the Pan/Parapan Am Games Integrated Security Unit, told the Toronto Star security costs and planning are still “fluid” but noted “we are on the cusp of entering into the final stage of operational planning.”
“The security budget numbers are current cost estimates and are not finalized. Based on the current Games plans, the total security cost is estimated at $239 million for the Integrated Security Unit (includes costs for OPP, municipal policing and private security services),” he said.
McDonell explained security costs could increase based on a number of factors: changes to the scope and scale of the Games; changes to the threat level and municipal policing contracts.
NDP MPP Paul Miller pointed to 2010’s riot-plagued G20 summit where the Toronto Police Services alone handed the federal government a bill of more than $89 million, much of it in overtime.
“It all boils down to the same thing, no matter how they shroud it . . . it’s the taxpayer’s dollar,” he said.
Coteau brushed aside the comparison to the violent G20 Summit. “This is a sporting event. It’s like going to a Blue Jays game,” he said.
Tory MPP Todd Smith said the cost of the Pan Am Games jumped from $1.4 billion to $2.5 billion when the athletes’ village was factored in, so he says it is naive to think it’s not going to go any higher.
Smith said last week the province bailed out the TO2015 organizing committee to the tune of $74 million and “it does appear that he is at the mercy of policing officials . . . security costs can be very expensive.”
Meanwhile, Coteau told the legislative committee that new TO2015 hires will not get a bonus if the games come in on budget and on-time, which is controversial practice exposed by the Star a year ago.