Minister of Sport Michael Coteau says he can’t guarantee the Pan Am Games will be on budget, contrary to earlier repeated assurances that it would be.
“I can’t make that promise to you,” Coteau told reporters Thursday after taking questions in the legislature on the Games, which are just a year away.
While TO2015 organizers insist the actual Games will come under budget, Coteau acknowledged the problematic areas are security and transportation, which are calculated separately and are the sole responsibility of the province. Security costs have already doubled.
“You have security costs that can change based on threat level, it can change based on different items like transportation routes . . . it is going to be challenging managing any type of Games or budget at this level,” Coteau said.
His trepidation flies in the face of repeated optimistic assurances from the former minister, Michael Chan, and TO2015 Games organizers that everything is on track.
It will cost taxpayers at least $2.5 billion — including the cost of an athletes’ village — to host the Games, which will 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. But that figure does not include security and transportation budgets.
Later Thursday, Pan American Games CEO Saad Rafi told CP24 the Games are “absolutely” on budget and on time.
Tory MPP Todd Smith (Prince Edward-Hastings) said he “almost respects” Coteau for telling it the way it is after months of having Chan insist there were no problems whatsoever.
“He’s probably wondering what the hell he has walked into,” Smith said.
“The question is, are we going to be tens of millions or hundreds of million dollars over budget when it comes to these various projects?”
At last count in March the security tab for the Games was pegged at $239 million — $33 million more than the previous estimate, and more than double the original anticipated cost of $113 million. Transportation has been estimated at $75 million to $90, compared with $173.5 million for the Vancouver Olympics and $676.9 million for the London Games.
The Pam Am Games’ 32 competition venues happen in a 10,000-square-kilometre area around southern Ontario.
“What I can promise you is that we (will) work with TO2015 to ensure that we keep costs down and that we make sure that security and transportation (costs) are kept to a level that will allow our citizens to be safe and moving and we will have the ability to put on the best Games we possibly can,” Coteau told reporters.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the cost of security has in effect become a “rubber cheque that is bouncing all over the place in terms of what the cost could be.”
“I have never ever heard of a budgeting process where there isn’t a figure or at least a target . . . by the sounds of it the targets are elastic in this situation and that’s worrisome because these Games can easily cost a lot more than what’s expected. And then who picks up the tab? The people of the province,” she said, adding it is difficult to get to the bottom of anything connected to the Pan Am Games.
Despite, fiscal concerns, Coteau, who has been on the job only two weeks, told reporters he is confident Ontario “can put on the best Pan Am Games in the history of any sporting event.”
“This is the biggest multi-sport event ever in the history of this country and I think it will be a great opportunity to showcase not only Toronto and the 16 municipalities but Ontario and Canada,” he said.
Coteau said the alternative to hosting the Games was to decide “not to participate in international sport venues and maintain the status quo, which includes our athletes going down to California to train for cycling or we can invest in that type of infrastructure,” referring to the new velodrome in Milton, west of Toronto.
“The best thing I think we can do as Canadian is support our athletes,” he said.
Earlier, Coteau told the legislature the Pan Am Games “is about building a legacy for our future, our future athletes here in Ontario — and not only Ontario but for all Canadians.”
“We are going from just an average jurisdiction, when it comes to multi-sport venues, to a world-class venue. We’ll be able to compete internationally for future events. I think we should be very proud of the investments we’re making.”